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Assorted Extreme Shock & Erotic Horror Short Stories

The Sooner They Learn * #17/WJ

~I’d be lying if I said that I couldn’t relate to the frustrations the main character feels~

 Pain is the nervous system’s primary indicator that we are doing something that might compromise the integrity of our bodies. It prevents us from destroying ourselves. To not know pain is to not understand what it takes to survive and succeed. Darrell was an educator, a teacher of pain. He had a warehouse of agonies concentrated within him that he needed to share, to diffuse amongst all those who had yet to know it, those who needed him.

                The boys walked past Darrell, followed by the pungent aroma of tobacco. They were perhaps only eight or nine years old. Way too young to be smoking. The larger of the two boys held out a pack of Newports to his shorter friend as he coughed and choked on the coffin nail dangling from his own lip. He was obviously not used to smoking. Perhaps he could still be saved? Darrell began to follow the two boys, listening to their conversation, looking for the perfect opportunity to issue his sermon.

                “Hey Sam, take a hit off this,” the larger boy said, shoving the pack of Newports into his friend’s hand.

                “Naw, Joey. You know I don’t smoke. Besides, my mom would kill me if I came home with my breath smelling like an ashtray.”

                “Damn Sam! You’s a little bitch! I thought you was down? I was going to pick up some weed later. I suppose you wouldn’t smoke that neither?”

                “Hell no! My mom would beat the hell out of me if she smelled that shit on me!”

                “I can’t believe what a little punk you are. You scared of your mom? The bitch is like in her fifties! What the fuck is she going to do? I’d smack the hell out of my mom if she tried to talk some shit to me. I do whatever the hell I want.

                Joey took another long draw on his cigarette, smoking it down to the filter. He dug into his pack of Newports and pulled out another, looking around to make sure the other kids in the playground were watching so they could see how cool he was.

                Darrell sat across the playground on a park bench, watching Joey. A tear rolled down his cheek. The anger built within him into a tempest, spilling from emotion filled eyes into the air around him.

                “Another child that we have failed,” he whispered, wiping away the tear with the tattered sleeve of his mangy plaid fur coat.

                That kid knows nothing about pain, Darrell thought. He knows no consequences for his actions. It’s all fun and games to him. I have to teach him.

                Darrell  knew all about life, all about pain. He knew that it built character, made you strong, taught you discipline. He knew that it was something every child needed to know about.

                Darrell freely acknowledged that he had failed his own children. He had let the world take them and it had broken them like kites in a hurricane. He watched them spin out of control into the maelstrom of drugs and crime until their shattered fragments had fallen headlong into the abyss, one in the grave and the other in prison. It was his fault. He’d been too permissive, too liberal. He’d allowed them to make up their own minds, make their own mistakes, hadn’t set down enough rules, hadn’t taught them about consequences and repercussions. Linda and Jake had grown up thinking the world revolved around them, that they were invincible. Now they were lost and it was Darrell’s fault. He had failed them. But, there were many other children in the world and he would not fail them. He would teach them all.

                Darrell rose from the bench and stalked out of the park after Joey.

                “The sooner they learn,” he mumbled as he closed the gap between them.

 

                Joey’s eyes burned from the thick miasma of tobacco smoke that choked the room. He coughed repeatedly and started to retch. The unmistakable click of the revolver’s hammer cocking back immediately silenced his coughing fit. Quickly, he put the cigar back to his lips and sucked down more smoke.

                He looked over at the huge disheveled old man that sat beside him, holding the revolver. Joey’s frightened bloodshot eyes pleaded with him, but the old man’s were ruthlessly silent. Joey coughed again. Darrell leaned over and placed the cocked and loaded .38 caliber Colt revolver directly to Joey’s head. The boy winced as he felt the chilling bit of the metal pressed against his temple, still he continued to dry heave. He had already regurgitated all the contents of his stomach. His throat was raw with the acid burn of stomach bile and the caustic fumes raking at his esophagus as he was forced to inhale more of the pungent smoke. The boy’s body began to hitch with sobs as tears raced down his cheeks.

                Joey wanted to beg Darrell to let him stop, but held himself back. He had begged the old man just minutes before, only to be snatched out of his seat by the jaw and dragged within inches of the man’s enraged countenance, which had twisted into a horrible scowl. The old man stared into Joey’s eyes looking as if he was about to bite his face off, then he spun the cylinder on the revolver and dry-fired the gun against the boy’s temple. The hammer fell on an empty chamber with a dull hollow click. Joey’s anus clenched up and his testicles rose into his stomach. A violent trembling shook his entire body and he nearly fainted. He had seen the old man put three bullets into the revolver. He knew that the chances of him surviving another round of Russian roulette were not good.

                The old man took the cigar from the boy’s lips and pressed it into his own palm where it sizzled as it scalded his flesh. “You stop smoking again and this is going in your eye,” he said in a voice that was hoarse and raspy, as if he had just smoked six boxes of cigars himself.

                Joey put the cigar back to his lips and sucked down more smoke. He had never felt so sick or scared before. He was woozy and his stomach rolled as he sucked on the huge cigar. It no longer felt cool. It no longer made him feel like a man. Six empty cigar cartons lay on the floor amongst the butts and ashes of nearly a hundred cigars and six more cartons sat waiting for him. Joey felt like he was going to die. If the cigar smoke didn’t kill him, then he knew Darrell probably would.

                Darrell was a child’s nightmare. He was the real boogieman. Draped about his neck was a necklace of severed Barbie doll heads, pacifiers and the miscellaneous limbs of broken action figures. The moth-eaten fur coat that Joey had originally thought was plaid was, in fact, fashioned from the hides of fur toys, Teddy bears, stuffed rabbits and big purple dinosaurs. Most of them still had their little glass eyes intact and they stared out of that bizarre collage of artificial pelts, as if beseeching you to rescue them. Some of the fur looked real, however, and were in the perfect shape of small dogs and cats. Some of these appeared to have their skulls intact, though minus the eyes. It looked like some last minute attempt at a homemade Halloween costume or the place where childhood breams found their death.

                He was a huge man, well over two hundred pounds with a hard athletic build. He had a head full of gray hair that was wild and unwashed. His skin looked like some type of hard wrinkled leather. From the weathered landscape of his face, cold gray eyes stared without emotion, except when they flashed brilliantly with rage. Joey had passed him numerous times in the playground as he sat on the swings. They jokingly called him the Boogieman and made up stories about him kidnapping and punishing bad kids. Joey had noticed the haunted look in some of the other kid’s eyes when he made Boogieman jokes, but he had always laughed it off, thinking they were just little punks scared of a fairytale. Now, he knew the stories were real.

                Joey finally fainted, just short of finishing his last box. Darrell stepped back, dropping the pistol from the boy’s head to allow the limp body to fall to the concrete floor. He left the door open as he left. When Joey awoke, he’d realize that he’d been only yards away from his own house in his dad’s tool shed. He’d crawl into the house and try to sleep off the whole experience. He wouldn’t tell his dad what happened though. They never tell. They knew they deserved it.

                There were no more good parents. The kind who knew when a child needed a trip to the woodshed and a belt or a switch pulled from an old tree lain across his backside ‘til the welts ran with blood. The kind who knew how to pinch you until your flesh turned purple for giggling in church during service, while daring you to make another sound.

                Nowadays, the child ruled the parent. They threw tantrums when they didn’t get what they wanted and parents gave in just to keep them quiet. Didn’t they know how easily quieted the child was who knew that a scream would immediately bring a slap across the face? Didn’t they know that one day these kids would have to learn that the world did not bend to their wills and may even roll right over them, leaving their broken bodies behind? There were no more good parents to teach these lessons. That’s why they needed Darrell.

                It was already getting dark when he left Joey’s back yard. The shadows had locked arms to form battalions of night that laid siege to the entire town. Darrell locked arms with the shadows too. They were his friends, his allies. He moved among them easily. Few people even noticed him as he traveled among his tenebrous troops. He was just another penumbra in an army of darkness.

                The couple making love in the Cadillac Escalade parked by the curb didn’t notice him either. Darrell would have likewise paid them no attention if it hadn’t been for the fact that he saw the school books in the backseat of the car as he passed.

                “Children,” Darrell hissed in disgust. “Children fornicating in public.”

                The disheveled old man drew back a fist wrapped tight in rags and punched it through the back window, just as the boy’s scrawny naked ass rose into the air preparing to impale the eager virgin beneath him with his throbbing young cock. He grabbed the boy by the hair and dragged him out through the passenger side window, in a hail of tempered glass.

                When the boy hit the ground and rolled over, his face snarled up into a grimace of rage and confusion, Darrell could see that the kid was barely fourteen years old, not even old enough to be driving, let alone fucking, in his father’s car. The boy wasn’t even wearing a condom.

                “You think you’re ready to be a father?” Darrell growled as he snatched the boy up by one arm. The boy swung at him with his free hand, missed, then bent down to pull up his pants and underwear to hide his diminishing erection.

                Darrell reached down and grabbed the boy by his genitals, balls and all. The boy let out a helpless squeal.

                “I asked you a question, boy.”

                “Leave him alone!” The girl had shrugged her clothes back on and was yelling at Darrell through the shattered window.

                Darrell let go of the boy’s arm and slapped the girl back into the car. “I’ll deal with you later,” he said turning his attention back to the boy. He tugged on the boy’s penis, stretching it out until it felt like it would tear right out from between his legs.

                “Aaaaaaargh! Fuck man, that shit hurts! Let me go motherfucker! What are you her father or something? We were just having a little fun. Jesus, don’t hurt me! Arrgh! Heeeelp!!! Fuck! Let me go!”

                Darrell leaned in close until his foul breath, reeking of rotten candy, steamed in the boy’s face. “I should rip it the fuck off and keep it on ice until you’re old enough to know what to do with it!” He reached into the car and dragged the girl out of the car by her hair. He seized her by the throat and held her against the car. “I’m not your father. I care a hell of a lot more than that. So, I’m only going to say this one time. If I ever catch you two going at it again, then I’ll make sure you never have to worry about ruining your lives by catching AIDS or herpes or hepatitis or getting pregnant. I’ll rip your cock right off and I’ll fill your pussy full of super glue and sew it the fuck closed! You are too young! Do you understand me?”

                They both nodded with eyes filled with tears. He let them go and they ran off down the street. When they were a block away the boy turned around and yelled, “You crazy motherfucker! I’m calling the cops!”

                Maybe he would. Maybe he wouldn’t. Darrell really didn’t care either way. He knew one thing for certain though. That relationship was over. As the boy ran off down the street, Darrell aimed at the center of his back and squeezed off a shot. The boy’s back erupted and bloomed bright red. He pitched forward onto his face, hitting the asphalt with a wet smack. His prone body convulsed for a second and then lay still. He wasn’t dead, but Darrell knew that the bullet had likely shattered his spine. He wouldn’t be getting any young girls pregnant now and definitely wouldn’t be catching AIDS. The horny little bastard wouldn’t be able to feel anything below the waist for the rest of his life. The girl screamed and ran even faster, disappearing around the corner. Darrell chuckled to himself and continued down the street sticking tight to the shadows, just in case the police were already out looking for him.

                Darrell walked another four blocks to the big shopping mall on Market Street. He entered the Sears department store and wandered around in a trance. He was thinking about his own children again when he heard the child screaming over in the toy section. Linda and Jake used to scream like that when they wanted something. He’d always given in after they’d embarrassed him, enduring the looks of pity and disgust on the faces of other parents as they watched him struggle with his undisciplined brats. He remembered the look on their faces that asked, “Why doesn’t he give those two little monsters a good spanking?” Back then, he’d felt that corporal punishment was cruel. Now, after seeing how they’d turned out—staying out all hours of the night, drinking, using drugs, getting into fights, having sex at ages thirteen and fourteen, stealing, dropping out of school, one eventually going to prison and the other becoming a crack whore who overdosed on heroin after being used and discarded by half the perverts in town—he realized that not disciplining them more harshly had been the true cruelty. They had never listened to a damn thing he said to dissuade them from their self-destructive behavior and now they were lost forever.

                The sound of that child screeching for his harried mother to buy him a new PlayStation video game brought back all those memories. Darrell stormed over to them fuming mad and dangerously close to exploding.

                The screaming, crying, cussing, undisciplined little cur threw a convulsive tantrum while still clinging to its mother’s leg. Darrell was amazed as the little beast balled up its fingers into a fist and punched his mother in the abdomen. The redheaded little terror was barely five years old and already in control of his parent.

                “I want it! I want it! I want it!”

                “Stop it!” The woman yelled back in a voice that quivered with emotion. She was near the breaking point, teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Her hellacious offspring screeched at her in a shrill whine that raised the hair on Darrell’s neck. The redheaded demon threw itself on the floor and began to kick like an overturned cockroach. This was another one who still believed that the universe should bed to its will and that any frustration to its desires could be easily dispelled with a few well-placed and infinitely irritating screams. Every moment that he went undisciplined was another day in jail, or on drugs, or selling his ass on the streets. He had to be taught.

                The entire store seemed to be staring at the little shrieking harpy and its mother with disapproving eyes, awaiting the moment when the obviously overwhelmed woman would actually begin to act like a parent and silence her son’s fit of egocentric rage with some corrective discipline in the form of a slap. It would never happen, not until the child was too old for it to do any good. The moment dragged on and on, the mother withering beneath the child’s aural assault, slowly being conquered, just on the verge of admitting defeat and giving in to her son’s whim.

                In a last ditch effort to regain a control that had obviously been abdicated long ago, the mother gave voice to her parental inadequacies with a cry of defeat that masqueraded as a threat, but only symbolized failure and imminent resignation to all those who heard it, including the delinquent it was meant to correct. “Wait ‘til your father gets home! Do you want me to call Daddy?”

                This was followed immediately by words that told all that witnessed the irksome spectacle that there was no respite in sight. “Do you want a time out?!”

                Darrell’s stomach rolled. What the hell had happened to parents? He had tried that tactic himself. The fool who invented it should be roasted alive on a spit, in Darrell’s opinion. It was just another admission of the parent’s loss of control.

                The boy answered his mother predictably and appropriately. “Fuck you!” The words flew out of his mouth along with a spray of spittle.

                The child began to punch at its mother again. Darrell could take no more. The woman was staring up at the ceiling, as if praying to god to rescue her from her own child, when Darrell charged down the isle, looking like a troll from under the bridge in some long forgotten fairytale. The ankle-biting little rug-rat was still yelling and screaming. Darrell pushed the mother aside and slapped the child to the floor with a backhanded swing that collided with his mouth with the sound of a gunshot. The kid’s head bounced off the tile with a loud smack that effectively cut off his shrill ranting. A trickle of blood ran down from the crack that bisected his lip. With eyes glazed in shock and dizzy from the blow, he looked up at Darrell. The child trembled as he met Darrell’s feral gaze, feeling like a rabbit cornered by a voracious wolf.

                The little redheaded monster screamed for his mother. Darrell drew back and backhanded him again, this time with a closed fist. The force of the blow knocked the boy over backwards. He landed face down on the tile floor. When he looked up, his left eye was nearly swollen shit with a tremendous black and purple bruise that went from cheek to temple. It looked as if he’d just gone twelve rounds in a boxing match.

                Darrell leaned over and pointed a long gnarled finger into the boy’s face. His eyes seethed with rage and madness burning like an electrical fire. “You yell one more time and I will beat the life out of you. Do you hear me?”

                The child nodded, his jaw still hanging open in shock. He looked over Darrell’s shoulder, searching for his mother.

                She finally overcame her own shock enough to protest. “What the hell are you doing to my baby!”

                She charged the gray-haired old man who’d just battered her son, swinging a fist and hooking her fingernails into claws, reaching out for Darrell’s face, determined to make him pay for hurting her child.

                Darrell turned and casually caught the woman by her throat, pinching her windpipe closed just enough to guarantee her silence.

                “Shhhhh!” he said, then turned back to the child, still holding his mother in an iron grip. He had to concentrate to keep his rage in check so that he didn’t crush her esophagus.

                Why do they even bother having children if they don’t know how to control them? He wondered.

                “I want you to apologize to your mother for disobeying her and embarrassing her like that in public. SAY IT!!!”

                “I—I’m sorry mommy!” the child cried and tears began to flow from his eyes steadily.

                “And if you ever disobey your mother again, I’ll be back for you. Do you understand?”

                “Yes.”

                Darrell released the kid’s mother and she rushed to scoop up her son. They held each other and cried as Darrell turned and walked toward the exit. On his way, he passed a cherubic, blonde-haired, three-year-old baby girl sitting in a stroller with a pacifier in her mouth. She was being pushed along by an overweight woman, roughly Darrell’s age, who was obviously her grandmother. The child’s real mother was probably little more than a teenager. As Darrell passed, he reached down and overturned the stroller, dumping the child out onto the floor and leaving the toddler screaming as if it had been fatally assaulted. Darrell bent over and retrieved the baby’s pacifier, adding it to his necklace. He carried the stroller away with him as both parent and child screamed at his back.

                “The sooner they learn the better,” he muttered, twisting the stroller into a mass of warped metal and plastic. The little girl had been nearly four years old, at least three years too old to be riding in a stroller and sucking on a pacifier.

                “The sooner they learn,” he repeated.

                He walked out of the mall and tossed that tortured relic of some years ago baby shower into the dumpster, wondering almost casually if he was perhaps taking his crusade too far. He reassured himself that all the kids he had disciplined were bad kids who would have only gotten worse if not for his intervention, that he was doing it for their own good. But, he wondered if he was also getting a little pleasure out of it, if perhaps he was not seeking to save the children but to punish them, to hurt them. He wondered if he was seeking revenge. Maybe, it was the parents he should have been punishing and not the children? Parents like him, who had failed their children, allowing them to become the brats that they were. Maybe, it wasn’t enough to reach the kids? Maybe, he needed to include the parents in his education?

                “Let me get another hit off that, mom.”

                Darrell’s head whipped around so fast he nearly broke his own neck.

                There stood the answer to his musings in the form of a mother and daughter dressed identically in skintight halter-tops, sans brassieres, and mini-skirts so short that you could tell they were not wearing panties beneath them and that they had recently shaved. They were both smoking cigarettes and passing a bottle of Crown Royal back and forth. The girl couldn’t have been more than twelve years old. It was obvious that she and her mother were prostitutes, just like Darrell’s baby girl Linda, who’d died in an alley with a needle in her arm and the semen of the more than dozen different men she’d fucked that night still leaking out of her. Darrell wanted to scream. He wanted to yell at the top of his lungs. A parent was supposed to want better for their child than what they had. They were supposed to guide them, steer them away from making the same mistakes they made. What this mother was doing was abominable. She had to be punished.

                How could she let her child do that?!!!

                He wanted to rip her apart. He would show that little girl what became of women who sold themselves on street corners. He reached into his coat and closed his hands around the hunting knife in his left pocket and the Colt revolver in the other.

                “The sooner they learn,” he muttered as he stalked after them.

                “Let’s go back to the motel, relax, and smoke these last couple of rocks before we hit the stroll again tonight. Okay baby?”

                “Cool! I need a little pick me up. I feel like shit tonight.”

                “Get it together honey! There’s a convention in town tonight. There’ll be twice as many tricks on the strip tonight and that means mo’ money.”

                Acid roiled in Darrell’s stomach as he fought to hold in his rage and revulsion. As much as he wanted to attack them right then and there, he needed to be alone with them.              

                He followed closely, matching their footsteps as he slipped from shadow to shadow. He ducked behind some bushes just yards from where the mother stopped to squat by the curb and relieve herself. He could smell the acrid ammonia of her urine wafting from the gutter. His stomach lurched and this time he did regurgitate. Luckily, they had already moved off down the road and did not see him drop to his knees and throw up his lunch in the same gutter where the whore had just urinated. His body trembled with fury as he rose and continued his pursuit.

                Darrell kept thinking of his little girl. Her anus and vagina had been bruised and torn, her nipples bitten, there were welts and cuts on her back and buttocks, livid blue and purple contusions around her throat from manual strangulation. He couldn’t believe that she hadn’t been murdered. Darrell had gotten sick then too, when the coroner told him that many of the bruises were old and healing at different rates. They’d been acquired at different times and most likely at the hands of different men. Trophies of her profession. This is what that little girl had in store, the path her mother was leading her toward. A life where a needle full of heroin and a cardiac arrest would be the greatest kindles she could hope for. Darrell gritted his teeth and flicked open the blade of his hunting knife.

                The little girl kept looking back over her shoulder, peering into the darkness as if she could sense him there. Most likely, it was just her normal paranoia, heightened by cocaine use. Finally, they turned the corner and the mother began fishing into her purse for her keys. Darrell moved in closer as they approached the door to one of the rundown rooms.

                The two whores staggered up to the motel, reeling from alcohol and a cocktail of illegal drugs. They never saw the powerful looking old man in the multi-colored fur coat as he came rushing at them from behind a nearby parked car. He forced them into the room, slamming the door behind him.

 

Darrell had bound them both in duct tape. He’d left the mother’s ankles unbound to allow him access. He didn’t gag her either. He wanted her daughter to hear her scream.

                “Stop hurting my mommy!” screamed the twelve-year old girl. Mascara ran down her face like black tears and lipstick smeared across her lips and cheeks like bright red welts. Darrell punched his entire arm into her mother’s dilated vagina up to the elbow.

                “Pleeeease! Stop hurting my mommy!”

                A wet, sticky, ripping sound accompanied each thrust as he drove his arm in deeper, tearing her reproductive system apart. The bottle of Crown Royal he’d shoved into her rectum shattered. Her vagina continued to tear until cunt and asshole became one gaping orifice, dripping blood in a tremendous pool that saturated the piss-stained motel carpeting. The woman had stopped screaming and now only whimpered helplessly. Her eyes were vacant, fixed and dilated. Her mind had snapped. Tears still streamed down her cheeks, turning brown as they ran in rivulets through the feces that covered her face from when Darrell had defecated upon her.

                “Is this what you want? Is this how you want to end up? You still want to be just like your mommy?” Darrell growled, staring directly into the young girl’s face as she continued to scream.

                “You’d better get your ass back in school and make something of yourself or I’ll personally make sure that you suffer worse than this.”

                Darrell withdrew his arm from the mother’s vandalized twat with a hideous “Schlorp!” It was covered in blood, excrement, and tissue. Darrell scowled as he looked about for a place to clean it. He went into the bathroom to wash up, leaving the two whores bleeding and crying on the bedroom floor. When he returned, he had his knife open.

                “Watch this, little girl. Watch what men like me do to whores.”

                He grabbed the girl’s mother by the hair and flipped her over onto her back. He knelt down on top of her and began to saw off her breasts. She began screaming again. Twisting her nipple and stretching her breast taut, he sawed down to the white of her ribcage and tore her entire mammary gland free of her chest. He worked her over with the knife for the better part of an hour. Her terrible anguished screams grew deafening in the tiny apartment. She began to convulse in agony as Darrell cut a long incision around her face and began peeling it off of her skull. When he finally left the room, he took the woman’s breasts, face and vagina with him, leaving her hollowed out remains writing and shrieking in an ever-widening pool of blood. He never touched the little girl. There had been no need.

                “If you don’t get your life in order, go back to school and stay off these streets, you will see me again.”

                She got the message.

                By the time the old man left the apartment, it was well past midnight. The streets were bustling with activity and he was exhausted and feeling decidedly anti-social. He just wanted to go home. Today had been more exciting than most and he was drained. There were so many children to save and he was just one man. He had miles to walk to his home on the other end of town. He scrambled along quickly, imagining snuggling beneath his covers with a good book and a cup of warm tea. He tried to stick to the shadows as much as possible as he made his way toward home. He knew that the cops would be looking for him and he was not exactly inconspicuous.

                He barely noticed when the car full of kids pulled up alongside him. Until they jumped out and attacked him.

                “That’s him!” a tiny hoarse voice cried out from the car. It was Joey, the smoker.

                One of the larger boys lunged out of the car and swung a baseball bat at Darrell’s head. It connected with a loud crack that sent the old man sprawling onto the floor.

                “That was my fucking brother you almost killed, you fucking freak!”

                It happened so fast that he didn’t have time to go for his gun. The kids held him down and searched his pockets, removing both his knife and his revolver before they began kicking and punching him.

                Boots, sneakers, a baseball bat and what may have been a pipe crashed down on his head and face, cracked his ribs, crushed his hand and shattered his kneecaps. They were beating him to death. Darrell was barely conscious when he felt the splash of liquid being poured all over him, followed by the pungent odor of gasoline. Then, he was burning. He could even hear the children’s laughter over his own screams.

                They never learned.

 

Joey and his big brother Mike snuck back into the house through the basement window and tip-toed all the way upstairs to their bedrooms on the second floor, careful not to wake their parents. They still smelled like smoke and gasoline. They both lay in their beds and tried to shut out the image of that old bum’s face sizzling and running off his skull like frying lard as the flames consumed him. Joey had just managed to quiet the screams in his head when he heard the window slide open and that same burnt pork smell that had lingered in the air after their impromptu cremation came wafting into the room, roaring up his nostrils.

                He opened his eyes just as Darrell’s skeletal face moved towards him, blocking the moonlight. Joey was sure that the old man had been dead when they left him smoldering on the sidewalk. When he examined the man’s face—eyes missing, teeth gleaming through where his lips had burned away, bits of burnt tissue clinging to an otherwise bare skull, other bits flaking away and fluttering to the floor as ash—he saw nothing to contradict his original assessment. Darrell was indeed a corpse. He tried to scream, but the old man pinched his windpipe closed before he could utter a peep.

                Darrell sparked the flame on the Bic lighter clutched in his blackened fingers and held it up to Joey’s face.

                “You have to learn not to play with fire, Joey.”

                Joey tried to scream again as the crazy old dead guy aimed the flame up his right nostril. Joey’s flesh began to sizzle. He writhed on the bed in nerve-searing anguish, but Darrell held him firm.

                The boy had learned at least one of the lessons. He knew now that there things in the world that could hurt him, that he was not invincible and that he could not get away with anything he wanted. The other lessons would take longer and be much more painful. But, Darrell had time. The boy had to learn.

                Darrell would not let him grow up to be a criminal like his son Jake, on death row for murdering a drug dealer. He would teach the boy better. The old man moved the lighter to Joey’s eyelid and smiled as his eyeball sizzled and popped.

An Experiment in Human Nature * #16/MOR

Ernest brushed the hair from his forehead with his fingertips and leaned against the wall, clumsily setting his glass upon the mantle.

               Young men playing dress-up, sporting Ralph Lauren, knockoff rich man wannabees enjoying Ernest’s parents’ good food and good smokes and good single malt, crashing in the Tudor-esque McMansion that felt somehow misplaced among the Hampton elite. Animal heads suspended from the walls gazed at them with dead eyes. A billiards table sat unused in the corner.

               “Okay,” Ernest said. “I promised you something interesting, right? Now we see if you two have the jewels to go through with it.”

               Caleb uncrossed his spider legs and leaned forward. He set his cigar (the smoke was choking him anyway) in the oversized freestanding ashtray and rose to his full height. Stretching his arms overhead, his fingers fell inches short of the eight-foot ceiling.

               “This should be good,” he said, cracking a smile.

               Ernest smirked. “It wasn’t easy, but I think it’s worth it. Or will be, in the end. It’s brilliant.”

               Ian, almost invisible in the corner of the room, said, “What’d you do?” His blue eyes were intense as he squinted at the two other boys. Curly auburn hair and a baby face, he was the youngest of the trio at nineteen, but only by two years.

                Ernest closed the double doors. “Keep it down. Some of the staff may still be wandering around. They might hear us.”

               “Staff?” Caleb scoffed, knowing the huge staff was composed of a cook and a housekeeper. “So what’s your big secret?”

                Ernest cleared his throat and narrowed his eyes. “We swore that no matter what, we’d stick by each other, right?” He strummed his fingers on the edge of the table.

                “Yeah, so? What’s got you so freaked?” Caleb said, though he nodded. “What’s your point?”

               Ernest blinked, his long lashes almost dusting the tops of his high cheeks. “I’m not freaked,” he snapped, and then composed himself. “A study in human nature. An experiment in perseverance.”

               “Blah, blah, blah…” Caleb snapped. “Get to the point.”

               Ernest ignored him. “You think you have the stomach for such an experiment? One that will be messy? One that, I guarantee, will end…badly?”

               Caleb said, “Badly? What’s that mean?”

               “We’ll be running some experiments. Okay? Just some tests. I got us a guinea pig.”

               “What kind of experiments?” Ian said, almost whispered.

               Caleb cocked his head. “Guinea pig, huh? Why do I get the feeling it’s not warm and furry.”

               Ernest smirked. “Oh, it’s warm and furry all right…” He sat on the arm of the sofa. “Remember in Professor Klein’s class when we studied about the strength of the human mind, and the ability of the body to preserve at any cost? What I remember most were the slides of the concentration camp survivors from the Holocaust, and the Japanese POW’s. Remember?”

               He paused briefly, looking from Caleb to Ian. “I’ve thought about that. A lot. Wondering…you know, what someone might do…”

               “Might do if what?” Ian murmured. The air in the room felt heavy, as if coated in cotton. He pursed his lips, the color of his cheeks now matching his hair.

               Ernest ignored him. “Thing is, there’s no turning back now.”

               Caleb shook his head and said, “Get to the point. What did you do?”

               Ernest stared at Caleb as if deciding how to proceed, whether or not to let Caleb in on the secret. “It’s already begun. I need to know what to expect from you guys. Because let me tell you, if I go down, we all go down. One for all, and all that stupid Musketeers bullshit, okay?”

               He sat back in the chair and rubbed his palm across his mouth. “Here’s the thing. I think I can safely say I understand your character. I trust you guys. I think the three of us are of like minds.”

               There was no argument so far; the three were of like minds when it came to politics and religion. But Ian wasn’t entirely sure he shared the same belief system as Ernest, or shared his ethics. He was willing to listen, however.

               “I found a…a test subject. I’d like to see how much it will take to…to, um. For him to break.”

               “Break?” Ian asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

               Caleb snickered. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

               Ernest shrugged and began to laugh.

               “Oh, god,” Ian said through fingers splayed across his mouth. He leaned forward in his chair, and his face brightened as he finally realized what Ernest was talking about. “You’re talking about what? Breaking some guy’s will?  Right? Am I right? Holy shit, Ernest! Who’d you pick?”

                “Nolan Pierson.”

               “Who?” Caleb asked, but Ian knew the guy. Nolan was in their psyche class, and was in Latin and chemistry with Ian and Ernest. Nolan was rather forgettable, with butchered black hair and oversized Buddy Holly glasses. The scholarship kid. His father was a janitor in the Harper Building on the west side of the campus. Every school has at least one Nolan—the kid whose Sears suit was never quite up to par, whose Payless shoes always fell apart a few months into the semester. The kid who wanted to fit in but just couldn’t afford to, his clothes and his efforts always being second rate.

               Nolan was a throwaway human being.

               And suddenly, the three seemed to realize almost simultaneously that they were of like minds. And like ethics.

               “Him?” Caleb said. “I know who you mean. He won’t last—the guy’s a loser. He’s on scholarship, for god’s sake.” He whispered the last part, as if naming a dreaded disease, as though naming his social status might inflict it on him.

               “I think you’re wrong,” Ernest said. “And there begins our experiment. Who better than some poor schumck who’s had to struggle all his life to get what he wants? A guy who tries to fit in but never manages to. If he didn’t have some strength of character, I think he’d’ve blown his brains out by now, n’est-ce pas? This guy has what we’re looking for.”

               “You’re awfully empathetic,” Caleb remarked, his eyes at half-mast. He snorted. “Like you really give a shit what this janitor’s kid’s been through.”

               Ernest opened his mouth but Ian cut him off. “What are you going to do to him?”

               “Me? Not me—we. What are we going to do to him.”

               “Sure. Right. Then what?”

               “Some tests.” Ernest turned toward Caleb. “And to answer your question, dickhead—“

               “I didn’t ask any fucking question. All I said was you’re full of shit. You talk about him being poor and struggling and all that but you don’t care.”

               “Like you do?”

               Caleb shrugged. “Never said I did. In fact, I don’t. But you. You’re full of shit.”

               Ernest smiled. “Oh yeah? I already have him in the house. Doesn’t matter whether I feel sorry for him. All I wanna do is some experiments. Like I said, this has already begun. I invited him over and slipped some shit into his drink.”

               “Well, I guess it’s started then,” Caleb said. “I’m with you. I’m in.”

               “Just like that?” Ernest said.

               “I trust you, man,” Caleb said. “We’re like brothers. And I think this sounds fucking exciting.”

               They stared at Ian. He chewed his bottom lip. “I’m in. You know I’m in.”

               Ernest slapped his hands together. “We have the house to ourselves. My folks gave everyone the night off since they’re going into the city for the weekend. So there’s no one left to, um, hear anything. Besides, Nolan’s tucked away in a safe place. Soundproof.”

               “They gave everyone the night off, did they?” Caleb scoffed.

               “Fuck you, assbag,” Ernest said. “Not everyone has staff who wipes their dick for them.” He led them across the room and reached behind the bookcase. “You see those old movies with the creepy old goth mansions that have these hidden passageways and shit?” He pushed a panel concealed behind a copy of The 120 Days of Sodom by the Marquis de Sade. A door disguised to look like part of the paneling creaked open. A light, musky air assaulted their nostrils.

               “Oh gimmie a fuckin’ break,” Caleb said.

               “Shut up.” Ernest ushered them inside and closed the door. They each held a flashlight, and Ernest led them down a hallway where the only sounds were their footfalls and the steady plinking of a leaky pipe.

               They passed through several doors. At the last door, Ernest reached up and punched in a series of numbers on a keypad, locking it behind them. “Can never be too careful. We don’t need company.”

               “Did you install that? It looks modern.” Ian brushed cobweb remnants out of his eyes as they approached a small room. He smelled something burning.

               Ernest told them, “I didn’t install it, but I doubt my parents know about that secret panel upstairs, or even about this place. I just discovered it myself a few months ago. I wonder what kind of sick shit the previous owner got himself into down here.”

               Light overtook the blackness. In the center of the room was a large, thick butcher-block table. Tied naked and spread-eagle to the table was a young man with black hair. He was blindfolded, and his glasses had been placed on a tray beside his head. He was gagged, but that seemed unnecessary since he appeared to be unconscious. The slow rise and fall of his thin chest indicated he was still alive.

               That burning smell…

               Ian looked at the corner of the room. A large pot had been set up, and something inside was simmering on a platform above Sterno canisters. “What’s that?” he asked.

               “Metal,” Ernest said. “A combination of metals, actually. Some old figurines, melted down. Lead and tin mostly. Silica. A bunch of stuff. Carefully mixed and tested.”

               “Tested? On what?” Caleb asked.

               Ernest looked up. “Strays. Mostly.”

               “What, uh, what’s the metal for?” Ian asked.

                Ernest snapped opened a container of smelling salts and ran it beneath Nolan’s nose. “You’ll see.”

               Nolan’s head jerked from side to side. He strained against his bindings.

               On a tray table beside the butcher block was an assortment of instruments. Ernest stood beside it and picked up a notebook and pen. He tried to hand them to Ian, who refused and backed up a step.

               “You have to keep notes, Ian.”

               “Why me?”

               “Because Caleb is stronger. I may need his help with…you know. Other stuff.”

               “No way. I don’t want my handwriting in any journal.”

               “You idiot,” Ernest said. “We’re all in this. Someone has to keep notes, and I can’t fucking do it. I’m going to be too goddamned busy to write, asshole. Besides”—he pointed at the camera mounted on a tripod in the corner—“I’m recording all of this. So fuck you and your handwriting. There’s a permanent record.”

               Nolan screamed a series of desperate and incoherent sounds into his gag.

               Ian snatched the notebook and pen out of Ernest’s hand.

              Caleb moved across the room and studied the tray of instruments. “Ernest, you are one seriously disturbed fuck.”

               Ernest handed him clamps. “Start with the nipples. Just don’t cut them off.”

               “Me?” Caleb’s face contorted. “Hey, isn’t that kind of queer? I don’t want to…”

               Ernest sighed, rubbing his eyes with his index fingers. “Look—this is an experiment. It’s medical, not sexual. If you get a hard-on while messing with his nipples, that’s your hang-up. Otherwise, just goddamn do it. It’s part of the experiment.

               Caleb moved to the other side of the table. Frowning, he ran his palms over Nolan’s breasts until the nipples stood erect. Using the clamps, he grabbed hold, Nolan writing beneath him. “I still don’t see what nipple clamps have to do with anything,” Caleb muttered.

               Ernest ignored him and turned to Ian. He said, “You ready? Before you write anything, I need you to help prep the subject. I want you to get a feel for this stuff.”

               Ian stepped forward, and Ernest handed him the next instrument.

               “What the hell do I do with—“

               “We’re all pre-med,” Ernest said. “Figure it out.”

               Ian knew what he was supposed to do with the tool, but—

               “Can you handle it?” Caleb asked. “Need help?”

               “You couldn’t deal with a nipple clamp, but this you’re okay with?” Ernest said.

                “We should be able to get enough into the tube if we work fast, before he starts flopping around too much. Otherwise it’s just going to spill all over his legs.” He filled the ladle and held it up, steam rising, the smell of the metal stronger now. “We don’t want to get this on us. It’s more than two hundred degrees, so be careful. And work fast. Got it?”

                Caleb nodded, getting a better grip on the thick rube protruding from Nolan’s ass. He affixed a large funnel to the end of the tubing. Ian stood off to the side, watching them with a transfixed expression of revulsion and horror.

               “When I’m done, pull the tube out fast. Then cover up his asshole with the duct tape. Got it?” Ernest poured the contents of the ladle into the tube. Seconds later the liquid reached its intended destination and Nolan went berserk, flailing against the ropes, his agonized screams muffled against his gag. Moments later, he was still.

               “He’s dead already?” Caleb blurted, pulling the metal rod out of Nolan’s ass, covering it with bandages and tape to keep the liquid from leaking out.

               Using the stethoscope from the instrument tray, Ernest listened for a heartbeat. He shook his head. “No, not dead. Strong heartbeat.”

               Ian dropped against the wall and buried his face in his hands. “Oh my god,” he croaked. “Oh my god.”

               “Get a grip,” Ernest said. “We’re not through.” He removed the gag from Nolan’s mouth, and a trace of spit and vomit trailed away with the cloth.

               “Now what?” Ian asked, choking back tears, trying not to cry.

               Ernest picked up the smelling salts. “We continue with the experiment. Should we remove the blindfold now?” He didn’t wait for an answer.

               “But…” Ian scratched his head and stepped forward. “But then he could identify us.”

               The other two exchanged glances before turning back to Ian.

               “What did you think was going to happen here?” Ernest asked. “He’s got a metal block up his ass. Did you think he was going to just walk away?”

               Ian swallowed and shrugged.

               “I told you earlier that this wasn’t going to end well.”

               “Yeah, Ernest, but—“

               “And you promised! You said you wanted to be part of this, that you would always be one of us. You swore along with Caleb and me, fucking told us we were your brothers!”

               “I didn’t know you meant murder!”

               Ernest looked at the floor before speaking, using a patronizing voice not unlike his father’s. “I told you this would be difficult. I told you this would end badly. I told you we would be sharing secrets for life. What about all of that didn’t you understand, you fucking idiot? What the fuck did you think I was referring to?”

               “Come on, Ian,” Caleb said. “You’ve got to see Nolan for what he is. A non-person, just an asshole getting a free ride. He’s a leech, a guinea pig. He’s a goddamned lab rat.”

               Ian looked from Ernest to Caleb and knew they planned to finish. Could he see Nolan as just a giant lab rat? He tried to justify what they were doing to the slab of meat on the butcher block table, hidden away somewhere in a room that reeked of damp, dead wine, a room lit by a naked bulb dangling by a single thin wire. The expressions on the faces of his fellow scientists were feral, somehow evil. They were enjoying this too much and would never need to justify their actions. Ian tried to reason that this was all for posterity, tried to forget that this was how Nolan would spend the last minutes of his pathetic life.

               “Okay,” Ian whispered. “I’m with you.” He didn’t know whether or not he really meant it. For now, he did mean it. For now, he would stand with them.

               Ernest handed him the notebook and pen. “Good. Let’s get going then. First entry was, say, 6:00 pm. Let’s see…” He played with the webbing between his thumb and index finger. “Level One. Subject gagged and blindfolded. Nipple clamps and insertion of rods and tubes. Slight bleeding. Subject…uncomfortable.

               “Level Two. Jot down, like 6:45. Level Two, melted metal enema injected. Subject in extreme pain and passes out. I guess this is where we begin Level Three.”

               Glancing at his watch, he said, “Blindfold and gag removed. Subject will be revived and questioned for response. Start Level Three at 7:00 pm.”

               Ian wondered what sort of doctor Ernest would become and then remembered his particular fondness for forensic medicine.

               Ernest continued his dictation. “About to revive subject.” Then he grinned. “Level Three. Wake the fucker up.”

               Caleb waved the salts beneath Nolan’s nose. There was no reaction. He waved them for another few seconds, and then lifted the vial to his own face and sniffed. He jerked back his head and snorted. “Nothing wrong with these!”

               “Oh, god,” Ian moaned, peering into Nolan’s face. “What’s wrong with him?”

               Ernest rolled his eyes. “Are you serious?” To Caleb he said, “Keep working those salts. See if you can revive him.”

               Caleb waved the salts and slapped Nolan’s cheeks.

               He continued the dictation. “Level Three. Subject unresponsive. Efforts to revive subject have been successful. Unsure at this point what—“

               Nolan rocked his head away from the salts. His eyes rolled around in their sockets, trying to focus, unable. The whites of his eyes were tinged with pink, distorted Easer eggs.

               Ernest leaned over, his mouth by Nolan’s ear. “Can you hear me?”

               Nolan moaned.

               “Nolan? Come on, man, wake up. We need to know how you feel. For posterity.” Ernest looked up at Ian. “Jot this down: subject unwilling or unable to respond. In great deal of pain.”

               Nolan’s eyes focused. He blinked and tried to press himself into the table. Opening his mouth, all that escaped was a belching groan.

               “Next level before he passes out again,” Ernest said, moving to the simmering pot.

               “Burns…” Nolan groaned. “Help me…”

               Ernest said, “This is going to be tricky. Ian, your turn. Grab his dick. Put on the gloves first.”

               Ian got into place and did what Ernest instructed.

               “Hold it up, as straight as you can. Hold it steady.” He turned back to the pot.

               “Wha…” Breathing came as gasping hitches, making speech impossible for Nolan. Tears streamed, dampening the hair along his temples. His eyes were glistening gems, brilliant and dying at the same time, a beautiful comet blazing to oblivion.

               Ernest held up an oversized syringe. “Hold him steady. I’m going to inject this.” The rod in the urethra was narrow, much thinner than the needle on the syringe. “Okay, hang on. He’ll thrash around, so hold him. Steady now.”

               He stuck the syringe into the tip of the rod. Moments later, the liquid metal traveled the length and filled the inside of Nolan’s penis.

               His shrieks reverberated off the cellar walls. He strained against the ropes, as if in the throes of a seizure. A sudden snap followed Nolan’s trailing screams before he passed out.

               Ernest tossed the stethoscope to Caleb and traced his fingertips over the damaged flesh and bone of Nolan’s broken leg. “Jesus Christ, that was a hell of a reaction. He broke his own goddamned shinbone.”

               Ernest examined the rest of the body. The flesh on the other ankle was torn and bloody, but the rope had held. He secured the broken leg to the table with another length of rope before checking on Nolan’s wrists.

               Ian pulled the rod from Nolan’s body. The liquid metal inside his penis had already begun to harden.

               “Hold it up,” Ernest said. “If you put it down the liquid will drip out.”

               Caleb held up the stethoscope. “He’s still alive.”

               Ernest smiled and wiped his brow with his sleeve. “Level Three was a success, I would say.”

               “Look at this,” Ian said, pointing to the underside of the penis. “The skin’s burning away over here. But nothing’s leaking out. I think it’s already solid.”

               “I can’t believe he’s still alive,” Caleb said, shaking his head. “If it was me, I’d sure want to be dead.”

               Ernest glanced at his watch. “Write this: Level Three achieved at 7:20 pm. Subject in agony, yet continues to live. Asked for help. Barely able to speak, yet screamed his head off a minute later. Level Three consisted of pouring liquid metal into his urethra, creating a permanent solid block in his urinary passage.”

               He cleared his throat. “Now at…7:35 pm, we will attempt Level Four. Will see if administering liquid to victim while asleep revives him at all.”

               Ian raised his eyebrows. His hand trembled as he wrote the notes, jotting every word, wishing this ordeal was over. He leaned against a wall, exhausted.

               Caleb handed him a small bottle of water. “You okay?”

               Ian nodded, chugging the water down his parched throat.

               “Hey, look at this,” Ernest said. Nolan’s penis—ramrod straight and granite solid—jutted up and rested against his stomach. “Come on, break’s over. Let’s do Level Four.”

               He held up two small cylindrical tubes. “Ian, write down whatever I say. Try to capture whatever he says or does. If he wakes up.”

               “You have to hold his head back tight, Caleb. If he went nuts before…I don’t have a clue what he might be capable of. These are going up his nose now. If he shakes his head, that shit’s going everywhere. Hold him as tight as you can.”

               “Up his nose?” Ian said. “Won’t that kill him? That’ll, like, fry his brains.”

               Caleb shook his head. “Why didn’t you get something to hold him still, like Flunitrazepam or something, man?”

               “Date-rape drug?”

               “Yeah. Like you don’t have access to that shit.”

               “Why would I want to use anything that would paralyze him? I want to see his reactions, asshole. I want to see the little fucker squirm.”

               “You’re sure taking this little ‘experiment’ personally, don’t you think?” Ian said.

               Ernest thought for a moment and chose to ignore this line of questioning. “I’m not sure whether this’ll fry his brains, but in other tests I’ve run, it didn’t kill the subjects right away. They kind of went nuts, but they didn’t die right away.”

               “You still talking about small animals, man?” Caleb asked.

               Ernest ignored him and instead tilted Nolan’s head back and inserted small metal tubes into each nostril. Nolan’s breathing became whistling gasps, and his mouth popped open to breathe.

               “He’s waking up,” Caleb yelled, bending low and holding on tight to Nolan’s head.

               Dipping two metal turkey basters into the pot, Ernest filled them with the liquid and rushed back.

               Before Ernest even touched him, Nolan responded, crying out and bucking on the table.

               Ernest yelled at the camera to be heard above Nolan’s steady stream of guttural and hysterical cries. “Level Four! Pour liquid into nasal passages!”

               Nolan fought, spit and sweat and blood flying everywhere, horrible grunts and animal growls erupting from his destroyed body. Placing the tips of the basters into the tubes, Ernest injected the boiling liquid into Nolan’s nasal passages.

               Inhuman screams poured out of him, seeming to come from some other level of existence. He strained against the ropes securing his body, fighting and stretching so spastically and furiously that sinewy cords snapped up and down the length of his body.

               Blood gushed from deep ruts in his skin. Then he passed out.

               Ernest collapsed. “Oh my god,” he panted. “Level Four complete. Did you get all that, Ian?”

               Ian’s heart pounded and his head thudded. “I feel sick.”

               “We’re almost done. Hang in there.”

               “Can’t,” Ian said. “Gonna be sick.”

               Ernest said, “We can’t stop now and leave him hanging. We have to put him out of his misery. Take a deep breath. Get a fucking grip, man.”

               The three stood around Nolan. His once not-quite-handsome face was now a gnarled and hideous ruin, a distorted parody of his former self. Metal patches stuck to his skin and hair. His cheeks were open sores, oozing pustules of flesh and exposed bone where metal had leaked through. The lining of his nostrils were two solid metal caves. Blood trickled out of the corners of his eyes and mouth.

               Ian gently squeezed the nose and felt the soft metal shift beneath his fingers, felt the spongy mass of tissue give beneath his touch. His stomach flipped, and he wished he’d ignored that strange compulsion to touch Nolan.

               “Level Five,” Ernest said. “We end this. See what sort of resolve or strength this freak has left.”

               Caleb listened to Nolan’s chest with the stethoscope. “His heart’s strong, I guess,” he said, licking his lips, stepping away from the body. “It’s still beating, anyway.”

               “I thought he’d be dead by now,” Ernest said, staring off at nothing. “Let’s do this. Final Level.”

               He grabbed a length of tubing from the tray. “This is flexible, like a garden hose, but it’s metal. Coiling of some sort. I snagged it from the garage, when the mechanic wasn’t looking. Open his mouth.”

               “His mouth?” Caleb asked.

               “His fucking mouth!” Ernest shrieked.

               Caleb tipped Nolan’s head back and pried open his mouth. Ernest fed the tube down his throat.

               “Write this down: eight pm. About to attempt Level Five. Tubing has been fed into subject. The tube acts as a sort of trachea. Get ready, guys. This is it.”

               Ian nodded and licked his lips. His heart pounded so fiercely his temples ached.

               “Hold him tight, Caleb!” Ernest placed a funnel at the end of the tubing in Nolan’s throat. He turned back to the pot and filled a quart-sized metal measuring cup, and he then dumped the molten metal down the tube and into Nolan’s throat. He pulled the tube out as the throat and mouth filled with the liquid, the neck and throat bulging.

               “Level Five!” Ernest cried, a look of triumph filling his eyes and spreading into an enormous grin. “Subject appears to be suffocating. His eyes are—“

               Nolan’s movements were lightning-fast and unexpected; in the throes of his mindless, adrenaline-powered paroxysm, he broke through the last of the thick cords and bolted upright, his head whipping. Blood poured from deep gashes across his body where moments before he’d been restrained. His arms and legs pinwheeled and struck out in every direction at once, searching for help, his brain now mush, his actions primal, mouth gasping for air.

               Metal, blood, and vomit flew everywhere, coating the walls and the young men. Nolan’s pupils disappeared, and he searched and pawed blindly, trying to scream through the terrible obstruction in his throat, trying to pull it out, gasping and retching, stuffing his fingers into his mouth and reaching down his throat, his body trying to vomit out the foreign objects.

               Nolan was free from his restraints but his actions were primal and desperate. His bulging eyes had focused enough so that they trained on a terrified Ernest, who was now trying in a blind panic to remember where he had left the exit.

               Nolan grabbed Ernest from behind, searching for help, a desperate young man tortured beyond recognition, searching for someone to save him from his living hell. So it was his fortunate luck, and Ernest’s piss-poor luck, that he was able to exact his revenge without even knowing it.

               For in his final moments, Nolan—weighed down by the metal filling every major cavity in his body—gurgled and sputtered his final gasping breaths, falling forward, impaling Ernest’s tailbone, piercing major organs with what was possibly the world’s hardest and sharpest dildo.

               This contorted mess of twisted body parts fell forward into the table, crashing to the floor. The metal-filled pot overturned, spilling its boiling contents on Ernest’s head. He howled, arms flailing, the liquid hardening into a layer on his head and shoulders, the skin beneath bubbling and dissolving off his bones.

               He died melting like a crayon in the sun, his colon impaled by his very own test subject, who was dead as well.

               Some time later, Ian pulled himself up off the floor. In a daze he extinguished the light and pulled the door closed, shutting the carnage in behind him. His mind was numb, his body trembling.

               He remembered earlier walking through a series of doors and now just walked down the passageways shell-shocked, trying to recall the way they had come just a couple of hours before. It felt like he had been down there for days. He realized it would be years before the bodies would be found, if ever.

               When he reached the third door, Caleb was sitting on the floor. Ian shined the flashlight beam in his glazed eyes.

               “I forgot about you, man,” Ian said, sitting on the floor beside him. “When did you sneak out here?”

               “Right after Nolan fell on Ernest. I got the fuck out of there. I thought you fainted or something.”

               “They’re both dead. What are we going to do?”

                Caleb exhaled and ran his hands through his hair. “Do? We’re royally fucked, Ian. Unless you know the combination. Look.” He shined the flashlight in the air and the beam fell on the lock,  a keypad with the series of numbers 0-9.

               Ian stared at it, remembering only that the combination was seven digits long.

               “Oh, shit,” he squeaked, quickly getting up and entering random patterns of numbers into the keypad. “We can figure this out. I mean, how many combinations can there be?”

               Caleb raised his eyebrows. “Are you serious.”

               Ian pounded away at the keyboard. He wailed on the solid oak door as well but only succeeded in smashing his knuckles and cutting the fleshy pads on his hands.

               “What are we gonna do?” he cried, kicking Caleb, who stared into the darkness.

               Ian searched the basement for an exit, a window, a crawlspace. All he found was hallway after hallway of solid rock.

               Two weeks later the food supply was rotten beyond even their desperation. Every last drop of dead blood—their only source of liquid besides the small reserve of bottled water and their own urine—had been consumed.

             Starving now, Ian, whose fingernails were bloody pulps from his efforts to tunnel through solid rock, his throat raw from screaming for help hour after hour, wondered how long he would be able to survive on Caleb’s dead body.

                Caleb was wondering the same thing…only he wondered if Ian would last longer if consumed while still alive. Wondered if the body parts would heal, providing Caleb with an endless food supply. Wondered what warm blood tasted like.

               Staring at one another from opposite ends of the torture chamber, Ian and Caleb began another experiment in human nature.

A Murder of Crows * #015/BCJK

~This is an excerpt from my favorite horror novel (well, its in the top three), I love it when two extremely talented authors get together and create something like the book this is excerpt is from. Outstanding, I could read this series forever. The following is from Serial Killers Uncut~

                                             Indiana, 1995

               Charles Kork had seen movies where a character got a flat tire and was so mad he kicked it. That had always seemed pointless and stupid until now. Staring at the shredded tire and ruined rim on his Honda Accord, Kork didn’t just want to kick the damn thing. He wanted to take out his hunting knife, stab the fucker about a hundred times, and then toss it into a bonfire while imagining its screams of agony.
               And of course he didn’t have a spare, because that was currently serving as one of the front tires, which had chosen to pop a week prior. Some asshole mechanic had warned him, last oil change, that his tires were bare and constituted a hazard. It had turned out to be prophetic. While the first flat was just a slow leak, this one had been a full-force blowout at sixty miles an hour, causing him to spin the car in a complete circle before fishtailing onto the shoulder alongside the road. Lucky he didn’t flip the car.
               But that wasn’t the worst part.
               The worst part was that Kork had the mutilated body of a stripper in his trunk.
               He kicked the tire a few times, swearing into the empty, mid-afternoon sky, and then stepped away and tried to think.
               Middle of goddamn nowhere.
               But he’d seen a state patrol car an hour ago. Even on lonely country roads like this, cops patrolled. Eventually, one would pull over, offer to call a tow truck.
               What were the odds that he could buy a new tire without anyone knowing about the body?
               Worst of all, he’d bought the car using his read name, and his goddam fingerprints were all over it.
               Kork took a deep breath, let it whistle out through his clenched teeth, watching his breath steam. He knew what he had to do. And it had to be fast, before a cop—or just as bad—some nosy motorist, stopped by with a big cornfield smile and a “got you a flat tire there, friend?”
               Kork looked up and down the road. Indiana had to be the flattest fucking state in the country. He could see for miles in either direction. In all directions. He might as well have been on stage at Woodstock. Anyone coming would see him immediately.
               And the fucking crows!
               They were everywhere.
               Circling and dive-bombing the fields. Scavenging for missed ears of corn.
               So he’d better hurry.
               It was a fall day. The morning had been colder than shit, a hard freeze overnight, but the sun had burned through the cloud cover and now it blazed down onto his face. He could feel the early pressure of a headache building.
               Fumbling for his keys, Kork walked around the rear of the car to the trunk. He popped it, staring at the blue plastic tarpaulin, recalling all of the fun things he’d done to the whore only a few hours ago. His new favorite toy, a propane torch, lay next to the body. He’d gone through a whole fourteen ounce cylinder on the girl. It not only prompted screams so loud they made her throat bleed, but it smelled positively delicious. 
               Charles didn’t go there, of course. Cannibalism was for psychos. But he could admit to salivating a bit. Barbeques would be a lot more fun if the pigs and chickens were alive when you cooked them.
               The same smell wafted up at him now, making him wish he’d stopped for lunch earlier. All he’d had was a few handfuls of popcorn from a jumbo bag he’d bought at a gas station last night.
               Kork reached for the body, ready to lift it out, and got a pleasant shock when the bag jerked.
               “Holy shit. The bitch is still alive.”
               Charles had been pretty sure the whore was dead when he wrapped her up. He’d slit her throat pretty deep.
               “You’re a fighter, I’ll give you that,” he said, hefting her out of the trunk and onto his shoulder. Moving quickly, he carried her ten yards into the cornfield and dropped her squirming body onto the cold, plowed earth.
               He kicked at a clod of dirt, his work boot bouncing off without it budging an inch.
               Frozen. Fucking frost.
               Charles had a little hand shovel in his tool kit, but it wouldn’t be enough to bury a body. Especially with the ground so cold.
               But leaving her exposed was just asking for trouble. He’d been planning on dumping the body in a river. Water washed away a lot of trace evidence. Creepy-crawlies nibbled at the feet and fingers. And with new DNA technology, where the cops could get a genetic fingerprint from a strand of hair or a drop of saliva, he had to be extra cautious.
               Genetic fingerprint? Hell, she was probably covered with his actual fingerprints. This whore’s body was basically a billboard that read: CHARLES KORK KILLED ME.
               He took another quick look around, wondering what the hell he was going to do. Still no cars. Nothing but empty fields and those fucking crows.
               Those fucking crows…
               Jogging back to the car, Kork grabbed the bag of popcorn from the passenger seat. Plenty left. He walked out to the body and then reached down, unrolling the tarp.
               The hooker looked like a slab of raw flank steak.
               She twitched and moaned, obviously in shock.
               Kork sprinkled the popcorn over her body.
               “Dinnertime! Come and get it, you bastards!” he shouted.
               He took a few steps back so he didn’t spook the birds.
               The first one landed a few seconds later, attacking the popcorn.
               And then something happened, prompting Kork to smile.
               The crow’s beak began to stab down faster and faster.
               Ravenously.
               Because it had realized that there was something even tastier under the popcorn.
               Soon, the whore’s body was covered in a thick blanket of crows, flapping and squawking and peck-peck-pecking away all the physical evidence.
               Kork was still watching, still smiling, when a car came into view about a mile up the road.
               Grabbing the tarp, he hurried back to his Honda and locked the blood-stained covering back in the trunk.
               He looked at the crows, still feasting. While they were doing the intended job, they were also quite the spectacle, impossible to miss.
               Kork felt even more exposed than he had earlier.
               He squinted at the approaching vehicle, wondering if he should go for the gun he kept in the glove compartment. The car was a sedan, white. Possibly a cop.
               If it was a cop, he’d have no choice. Have to take him out. But there was no damn place to run to. Killing a pig would lead to a nationwide manhunt. Maybe just taking him hostage would be smarter. But even then, Kork would have to leave his car behind. His car, in his name, covered in his fingerprints.
               Why did killing a whore have to be so goddam hard?
               Kork went for the gun, checked the clip, and held it alongside his body, keeping his arm straight down.
               The sedan was slowing.
               Kork shot a nervous glance back at the crows, saw a glimpse of pink.
               That damn whore was holding up her arm, trying to wave.
               Fuck! Die already, you stupid bitch!
               The car continued to slow.
               It wasn’t a cop. No cop drives a Lexus.
               Still, Kork couldn’t kill them. It would lead back to him. But what choice did he have if they saw the whore?
               Even though it was a chilly autumn afternoon, Kork wiped some sweat off his brow.
               Come on, keep going you nosy fucker. Nothing to see here.
               But it rolled to a stop, fifty yards away.
               For what seemed an eternity, no one got out.
               Kork squinted to catch a glimpse inside, but the windows had a slight tint, making it impossible to see the driver.
               He glanced back at the crows, squawking and fighting over their afternoon mean.
               Looked back toward the car.
               Still no movement there.
               Had they seen the crows? They must have. The air was thick with them now, as if they could communicate by telepathy and were calling in their siblings, cousins, and buddies from out of state to join in the hooker feast.
               Kork gave a short wave and a nod to tell them he was fine, everything’s fine, I don’t need any help, and then started for his driver-side door. He would need a ride, eventually, but maybe the time for that ride would be when two hundred crows weren’t devouring a half-dead whore ten yards away.
               He opened the door and climbed in behind the wheel.
               All’s well here, feel free to move right the fuck along.
               Kork checked the rearview mirror.
               Goddamn it.
               Now the front passenger—and driver-side doors of the Lexus were swinging open, two men stepping out.
               One was tall and thin, wearing bib overalls. His lanky hair hung over his gaunt, pale features like a black spiderweb. The other was shorter, muscular, tanned the color of old leather. Or maybe he just looked tan in comparison to his partner, who was paler than a newborn baby’s ass.
               What do I do? Wait for them to approach? Meet them halfway?
               He jerked his eyes back at the crows. The whore was waving both arms now, and above the cacophony of caws and squawks, Kork thought he heard a thin, keening wail.
               Fuck, fuck, fuck…people always died too soon. He was always losing control, accidentally killing them prematurely. Who the fuck was this whore? Superwoman?
               Kork didn’t have to jack a round into the chamber of his .45—there was always one in the chamber. He thumbed off the safety and exited his car, keeping the gun behind him.
               An outrageous thought entered his head: killing these two, dragging them to the crows, then another car coming by, and another, until there were fifty cars parked along the shoulder and a giant pile of corpses in the field.
               “Got a tow truck coming,” he said, not bothering to be friendly.    “Don’t need any help.”
               “Did we offer any?” the shorter man said. He was grinning.
               They stopped on the shoulder, fifteen feet apart. Kork glanced back—no cars coming at the moment.
              “Got yourself a right fine murder there,” said the tan man.
               Kork raised an eyebrow, his heart skipping a beat. “Excuse me?”
              “Crows. Group of crows is called a murder. There are lots of strange names for bird groups. An unkindness of ravens. A pitying of turtle doves. A watch of—“
               Kork raised his weapon, pointing it at the talkative one. “So what do they call a group of two dead assholes?”
               This inexplicably widened the tan man’s smile.
               “You think this is a fucking game?” Kork asked.
               The younger, paler of the duo stared at the crows with obvious interest.
               “What are they eating?” he asked.
               “Hey! Dipshit! I’m pointing a fucking gun at you, too. That’s more important than a flock of goddamn crows.”
               “Murder,” the tan one said. “Not a flock. And I’m curious too.”
                The tan man’s eyebrows suddenly arched.
               “Uh oh. You see that?” the tan guy elbowed his friend and pointed down the road. “Can’t hear it over the crows, but I think that glint is the sun reflecting off an approaching car. He should definitely shoot us right now.”
               Kork fought the urge to turn around and look. There was too much happening at once, too much to process. He needed time to think…
               Then an idea came to him.
               Kork wasn’t exactly a sharpshooter, but he could damn sure put a few rounds center mass into both of these clowns. Let the crows have them. Then maybe he could start his own car on fire to eliminate the evidence, and take theirs. It was nicer anyway.
               Yeah, that was a plan. A good plan. Once the other car passed, he’d make it happen.
               But what if it didn’t pass? What if it stopped like these two assholes?
               “He might have time to drag us back behind our car before the next car passes,” the tan guy went on. “I figure he’s got about twenty seconds. No big deal if he doesn’t make it. I’m sure whoever drives by has seen plenty of dead bodies being dragged off the side of the shoulder. Probably speed right on by. Hell, I would. Unless…”
               Why was the tan guy smiling now?
               “Yep…unless it’s a police car. Like the one coming up behind him.”
               “Bullshit,” Kork said.
               “Might be smart to lower that .45.”
               The tall, pale one slipped a hand into his jacket. The tan one had his thumb hooked into the back pocket of his blue jeans.
               Kork wanted to look back over his shoulder, wanted to badly, but these guys were too calm, too odd, and he refused to take his eyes off them. They could easily both be packing.
              “I’m really not kidding,” the mouthy one said. “Put the fucking gun down or it’s going to be bad for all of us.”
              Kork didn’t like being told what to do, and his finger tightened on the trigger. But something in the tan man’s voice, something in his eyes, reminded Charles of his Father. Not Father when he was crying, simpering, begging for forgiveness while Kork or his sister beat him with belts and whips. But Father when the darkness overcame him, when he’d checked his conscience at the door and lived to cause pain, when he was the most frightening creature to ever walk the earth.
              Kork lowered the gun, tucking it into the back of his pants.
              He turned and looked down the road.
              Holy shit. It was a cop car approaching.
              When Charles looked back at the two men, they were already walking toward him.
              “Get the fuck back! What are you doing?”
              “I’m thinking it might be smart to pretend we’re changing your tire.”
              The noise of the cop’s car engine was loud as hell now—he could actually hear it over the birds—and the two men were standing right in front of him. The tan one knelt down by the left rear tire and glared at Charles. “Let me do the talking. You seem to have some temper issues that could escalate the situation.”
              “Fuck you! No, I don’t!”
              “He might pass right on by,” the pale one said.
              They all looked at the approaching car now.
               It was definitely slowing down, but nothing strange about that.   Everyone slowed down to look at a broken-down car on the side of the road. Even cops.
              Then its light bar lit up, flashing blue and red.
              The cop crossed over the yellow line and pulled onto the shoulder in front of Kork’s Honda, its tires crunching over the gravel.
              Kork saw him get on his mike, no doubt calling in his plates.
              Fuck fuck fuck.
              “Keep calm,” said the tan one. “You aren’t the only one with things to hide. We don’t want this cop to stop any more than you do. So let me do the fucking talking, or we’re all going to be screwed.”
              The cruiser was a Crown Vic, and as the trooper swung open his door, Kork could see the blue and white Indiana State Police logo emblazoned on the black pain of the door.
              The trooper must have been six-five. He was corn-stalk thin. A miracle he could even fit in the cruiser. He wore blue pants, a long-sleeved black button-up, and a straight-brimmed hat that hid the color of his close-cropped hair.
              He strode up to the driver-side door of Charles’s car, his attention divided between the three men near the flat tire and the veritable swarm of crows just off the road. His right hand rested on his holster, the leather safety snap already unbuttoned for a quick draw.
               “Afternoon, Officer,” said the tan one.
              The officer stared at them through a pair of reflective Ray-Bans. “Everything okay, sir?” he asked.
               “Just getting a workout, changing this flat.” The tan one patted the shredded rubber.
               “Is this your car, sir?”
               “No, Officer. We’re just being good Samaritans. Helping out a fellow traveler in need.”
               “It’s my car,” Charles said. He felt ready to jump out of  his skin, and fought not to pull his piece and fucking shoot all of these assholes.
               “You’re lucky these gentleman stopped to give you a—“
               His voice trailed off, the trooper’s attention once again distracted by what was happening in the field.
               The crows were screaming bloody murder.
               “You ever see so many crows in one place?” he asked.
               “Damnedest thing, aint it?” said the tan one. “We checked it out before you came. Dead coyote. They’re having a good, old chowdown on the poor critter.”
               The trooper smiled—a flash of perfect, straight-white teeth. “It’s like that Hitchcock movie,” he said. “God, I can’t remember the name of it. You know the one I’m talking about. All these birds go crazy and start killing people.”
               “Psycho?” the pale one said. “Loved that one.”
               “What’s your name, sir?” the trooper asked the pale one.
               The immortal whore was waving an arm again, and Kork could swear he heard her screaming, but it was almost impossible to pick out amid the cries of the feasting crows.
               “I’m Luther,” said the pale one. “That’s Orson.”
               “So that must make you Charles Kork.”
                Kork panicked for a split-second, then realized the cop must have gotten his name from his license plates.
               “Yeah.”
               “You staying out of trouble, Mr. Kork?”
               “Doing my best,” Kork said through clenched teeth. The gun pressing into the small of his back felt enormous, and he ached to pull it out and start shooting.
               The trooper said, “Well, that’s all we can do, brother. Our best. Lord knows.”
               He looked over at the crows again and tugged his sunglasses down, squinting in the afternoon light. The field seemed to stretch on forever. Silos loomed several miles away and the sweet, rotting scent of a dairy farm was on the breeze.
               “A coyote?” he said finally. “No, that looks too big to be a coyote.” Then he turned and walked around to the front of the Accord, shielding his eyes from the sun as he gazed with a heightened intensity into the field.
               Charles felt the moment slipping out of his control, a mad rage building inside his head, a sound like white noise getting louder and louder, demanding an explosion of violence.
               The trooper said, “Could it be a dog?”
               “Looked like a coyote to us,” Orson said.
               “If it’s a dog, maybe I should check the tags. Could be someone’s pet.”
               The trooper had begun to walk off the shoulder into the field.
               Charles looked at Orson, who gave him a little nod. Charles reached back, put his hand on the .45.
               The trooper walked ten steps into the field and stopped.
               He stood just a short distance from the crows, so many of them now that Charles could only see fleeting glimpses of the purple and red underneath.
               The trooper unholstered his firearm.
               What the fuck?
               Raised it toward the sun and fired a shot.
               The crows dispersed in a riot of squawking and flapping, like a black cloud rising into the sky.
               Orson walked around to the front of the car, motioning for Charles to follow.
               The trooper stood with his back to them, staring down at what the crows had left.
               He was shaking his head, saying, “That is positively the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.”
               Kork stared, too.
               The whore was unrecognizable as anything human. Especially with her insides pulled out and strewn over the cornfield like a massacred piñata.
               But she must’ve been delicious.
               Because almost as quickly as they’d fled, the crows descended upon their mean again, blanketing the body in an instant.
               “If you want to go hunting through that mess for a dog collar, you’re a braver man than I am,” Orson said.
               The trooper looked indecisive, chewing his bottom lip.
               Radio chatter squeaked through the mike on the trooper’s lapel.
               He tucked his chin into his collarbone, said, “Roger that.”
               The cop turned and headed back toward his car. “You need me to call a tow truck for you, Mr. Kork?”
               “I think we got it under control, Officer.”
               “Then you gentleman have a good day.”
 Kork watched the trooper climb into his cruiser and crank the engine.
 It whipped around in a one-eighty, slinging dust and gravel, and then the tires bit into the pavement and it screamed off down the road, the deepest tones of the turbo-charged V8 audible long after the car had disappeared from view.
               Orson smiled at Kork.
               “Well played. So, Charles, why don’t you tell us about the coyote out there in the field. The one with the human arms and legs.”
               Kork pulled the .45, pointing it at Orson’s face.
               Simultaneously, Luther pulled a gun of his own.
               “I’ll bet,” Orson said, “that when you were a kid, you were the type of little shit who played in his own corner of the sandbox and didn’t share his toys with anyone. Am I getting warm?
               Kork didn’t like having a gun pointed at him, but it did have the effect of capping his boiling temper. “Who the fuck are you?”
              “We’re just a couple of guys heading to a mystery book convention in Indianapolis. Looking for a little fun on the way. To be honest, we were kind of hoping your name was Ben. Because we have Ben’s partner in the trunk.”
               Kork couldn’t tell if Orson was kidding or not. The man was seriously hard to read. “You’ve got a man in your trunk?”
 “Well, I’m not sitting him in the back seat where he’ll bloody up the leather.”
               “You’re bullshitting me.”
               Orson raised an index finger and drew an X across his chest.   “Cross my heart. Winston and Ben were a couple of predators. Like Luther and I. And like you, judging from the corpse in the field. Only they made the mistake of hurting Luther and his family when he was a kid. So now Luther’s exacting a bit of well-deserved revenge.”
               A faint smile curled across Charles’s mouth. “Prove it.”
               Orson nodded to Luther, who walked to the rear of the Lexus.
              “Keys,” Luther said.
               Orson slowly took a key ring out of his pants and tossed it to the pale man. Luther caught the keys and tucked the gun away. Kork walked over, covering Orson, who had his hands at his sides.
               Luther popped open the trunk.
               “Fuck me,” Kork said.
               Inside the compartment lay a man, completely naked, his body wrapped tightly in cellophane, all except for his head. His lips bulged wide around a ball-gag. He was older, in his fifties, white and hairy. His green eyes were wide with fear.
              “Think those crows are still hungry?” Luther said, his mouth twitching.
               Kork lowered his gun. He wondered what the chances were of running into these two kindred spirits in the middle of Indiana. Then again, he’d heard that the FBI estimated there could be as many as five hundred active serial killers in the U.S., so maybe the odds weren’t has high as he might have guessed.
               Luther walked around to the rear passenger door on the shoulder-side of the Lexus and pulled it open. He fumbled around for a moment inside, and then returned to the trunk.
               “You want in on this, Kork?” Luther asked.
               Kork was staring at the wide-eyed man, thinking that aside from wrapping him in cellophane, it didn’t appear that they’d so much as laid a finger on him yet.
               Fresh, untouched meat.
               “Kork?”
               “Yeah. For sure. You guys planning on doing him right now? Right here?”
               “That’s up to Luther. I know he’s been itching to get to it ever since we picked Winston up in Gary.” Orson looked at Luther. “Luther, you sure you’re all right with bringing him in on this?”
               Luther stared at Charles. He had eyes like black pits.
               “As long as he shuts the fuck up, and doesn’t do anything until he’s offered the chance.”
               “Charles?” Orson asked. “You cool with that?”
               Kork had killed many people on his own, but the ones that were most memorable, and the most fun, were the ones he did with his sister, Alex. Orson had nailed it when he said Charles didn’t like to share. But with murder, it was different. Sharing made it more exciting.
               “So when you pulled over to help me,” Kork said, “were you thinking I’d wind up in your trunk as well?”
               “It crossed our minds,” Orson said. “We hate to pass up low-hanging fruit. How about that body in the field?”
               “Blow torch versus whore.”
               “I thought I caught a whiff of BBQ in the air. So do you want to join in the fun?”
               “Abso-fucking-lutely.”
               Luther seemed distracted. He was kneeling against the back bumper, leaning over the terrified man wrapped in plastic, staring down into his eyes with a brutal, predatory intensity.
               “What you did to my family,” Luther whispered. “To my sister…” He pulled something out of his pocket. “…is something you’re going to pay for with more pain than anyone could endure.”
               “What’s he doing?” Kork asked.
               “Just give him a moment,” Orson said.
               Luther’s face was inches away from the man in plastic. “You killed my sister, didn’t you?”
               The man wildly shook his head.
               “No? So you deny it?”
               Wild nodding.
               “That just made it worse for you.”
               Now Luther held up whatever he’d taken out of his pocket—a small metal cylinder with six tiny blades on the end.
               “This is called an artificial leech. Old-school medical instrument. It’s for poking holes in skin.”
               Orson put a hand on Luther’s shoulder. “Not in the trunk.”
               “Help me get him…Winston…out.”
 The two men wrestled the package from the trunk, one at the head, the other at the feet. Charles joined in, cinching an arm around the wiggling man’s waist. He was screaming around his ball gag, and Kork felt himself becoming aroused.
               They set him down on the shoulder-side of the car, and Luther sat on top of him.
               “Look at me, Green Eyes,” he said. “I still dream about your eyes, about your friend walking up the beach at night toward our bonfire. You’re going to tell me the truth. Do you understand that?”
               Frantic nodding.
               “If I take out your gag, you’ll tell me the truth?”
               Nodding.
               “And do you know what will happen if you tell me the truth?”
               Shaking.
               “I’ll let you go. I just want to hear you say what happened to my sister. I never saw her again, never heard from her again after that night you and Ben came along and destroyed my family. I just want to know what you did to her. Are you ready?”
               The man nodded.
               Luther reached around behind his head and unstrapped the ball-gag.
               Winston’s chest rising and falling.
               The man’s gray hair slicked back with sweat.
               “Please,” he said, “please don’t do this—“
               Luther silenced him by simply holding up a finger.
               “I don’t want to hear a single word come out of your mouth except for your explanation of what happened to my Katie.”
               “Katie?”
               Kork saw Luther shut his eyes for a moment, then open them again.
               “Winston, this is your last chance. Then I’m going to stick you with this artificial leech about five thousand times and feed you to the crows.”
              “Just tell me what it is you want me to say. I’ll say it. I’ll say anything.”
               The wind was whipping Luther’s long, black hair around his face.
               He tucked it back behind his ears.
               “What did you do to my sister?”
               “I…I…I’m sorry.”
               “Where is her body?”
               “It’s…I don’t know.”
               “You don’t remember?”
               “No.”
               “Did you kill her?”
               Tears streamed out of the man’s eyes.
               “Did you kill her, Winston? Tell me you killed her and how you did it, and I won’t kill you.”
               “I…I did it.”
               “You did. Okay. How?”
               “With um…with a knife.”
               “You killed my eight-year-old sister with a knife?”
               He nodded.
               “Did you rape her first, Winston?”
               “I…”
               “Like you raped my mother. Tell me if you raped her before you killed her.”
               “No…I didn’t…”
               “You didn’t rape my sister? Or my mother? Because I saw you, Winston. I watched you do it. Don’t you fucking lie to me.”
               “If I tell you…admit…that I raped her, you won’t kill me?”
               “That’s right. I won’t kill you.”
               “Yes,” Winston said. “I did it.”
               “Do you know where Ben is?”
               “Ben?”
               “Your partner. Tell me where Ben is.”
               “I…I don’t know…”
               Luther sighed. He pinched the man’s cheeks together and jammed the ball-gag into his mouth and snapped it back into place around his skull.
               “I know what you’re thinking,” Luther said, “but I didn’t lie. I have no intention of killing you. I’ll let the crows take care of that. But first, we have to let them know there’s something yummy inside of you.”
               The man was still trying to speak through the ball when Luther stabbed him with the artificial leech. Blood appeared beneath the plastic and the man screamed through his gag, the sound racing out across the cornfield.
               “All you had to say was the truth,” Luther said, and he stuck him again.
               And again.
               And again.
               And again.
               And again.
               And again.
               And again. And again. Andagainandagainandagainandagainand. Againandagainandagainandagain. Andagainandagainandagainandagain. Andagainandagainandagainandagainandagainandagainandagain. Andagain. Andagainandagainandagainandagainandagain. Andagain. Andagain. Andagainandagainandagainandagain. Andagainandagain. Andagainandagainandagainandagainandagainandagainandagainand. Againandagainandagainandagainandagainandagainandagainandagain. Andagain…losing control, wild stabbing thrusts, until sweat poured down his face. Orson grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him back.
               Luther was crying.
               He wiped his eyes, breathless, screamed, “That son of a bitch took everything from me.”
               “I know,” Orson said. “I know.” The man was screaming and choking under the gag, blood leaking through the puncture holes in the plastic onto the pavement. “But let’s give our new friend a turn.”
               By this time, Kork was fully aroused, and he didn’t even bother hiding it.
               The tiny sting of embarrassment overwhelmed by his urge, his need.
               “Would you like some private time with Winston, Charles? We could cut away the plastic if you want to have a go at it. Turnabout is fair play, they say.”
               “Don’t need you to take off the plastic.” Charles removed a folding knife and placed it above Winston’s flabby stomach, looking for a spot where he could cut deep. “I can make my own hole.”
 
Later:
               “This must be like the best day ever to be a crow in Indiana,” Orson said.
               There were at least four hundred birds perched on top of Winston, who had finally stopped struggling after an hour of being dined upon.
               Several cars had driven by in the interim, and a few had even slowed down.
               But no one stopped.
               The sun was already halfway between its apex and the horizon, and the first him of the hard freeze that was coming nipped at the tips of Orson’s ears. He and Charles were sitting on the shoulder, leaning against the Lexus, watching the show.
               Luther sat out in the cornfield, just a few feet away from the hungry birds, absolutely still save for his back mane of hair that the wind was blowing back behind his shoulders.
               He looked like some terrible scarecrow.
 “So your buddy finally got his long-awaited revenge,” Kork said. “How did you find old Winston after all this time? You said Luther’s family was attacked, what? Almost twenty years ago?”
               Orson grinned mischievously. “Want to hear a secret?”
               “Sure.”
               “That man out there in the field, he’s the fourth Winston we’ve found in the last two months. Whenever Luther sees a man with green eyes, he sees Winston again.”
               Kork laughed. “So that poor fucker wasn’t Winston.”
               “Nope. Just some poor fucker. Winston’s partner, Ben, was short and stocky. We’ve killed a few short and stocky guys, too. It’s all a healing process, and I’m doing what I can to help.”
               “You mind giving me a ride to the nearest gas station? Still gotta get my car fixed.”
               “Of course. We wouldn’t leave a fellow traveler stranded. Birds of a feather, and all that.”
              “It’s been good meeting you, Orson. Maybe we’ll bump into each other again sometime.”
               “It’s a small world, Charles. Anything can happen.”

~If you’ve enjoyed this I highly recommend reading Serial Killers Uncut. Make sure you look for that title because there are several versions of the book out that were published before Serial Killers Uncut came out, and they do not feature the entire story. Also, this is a big read that involves two authors and two separate series that were ultimately married together in Serial Killers Uncut.~

The Special Son * #14/JH

~ Masturbation won’t make you go blind…it’ll do a lot worse than that! (And yes, this is another story featuring dicks, I do enjoy reading & writing about dicks!)

“That a boy, Tinkles. You know what I like to see.”

                Chase smiled, his back to the door. A second ago, Mr. Tinkles had been limp as a noodle. Now, he was long and hard. Like a sausage. A frozen sausage. The kind Chase’s father kept outside, in the big chest freezer.

                “Wanna play, Tinkles? I bet you do. You’re always in the mood for a game.”

                Shuffling across the room, Chase made sure the blinds were shut tight. He didn’t want any of the neighbors to seem him without his pants on. The last time someone had seen him naked, a man in a blue uniform had shown up on his parent’s doorstep and talked about indecent exposure.

                “Indecent exposure,” Chase muttered. What a funny sounding phrase.

                He didn’t understand what “Indecent exposure” meant, exactly, but he assumed it wasn’t good. His parents had acted mortified while talking to the man in blue.

                With a shrug, Chase dropped his pants. The world was a confusing place. Some people did this, and some people did that. Some people preached this, and some people preached that. And some people did the opposite of what they preached.

                Oh well. As long as Chase had Mr. Tinkles, he would be happy.

                Mr. Tinkles could make a bad day good.

                Mr. Tinkles could turn a frown into a smile.

                Mr. Tinkles could make all his troubles disappear.

                Stepping daintily out of his jeans, Chase appraised himself in the mirror. All things considered, he wasn’t a bad looking specimen. His thighs were chiseled, his shoulders were broad and his hands were muscular. His skin was a bit pale, but that would change in the summer.

                “Lookin’ good, hotshot,” he told himself, striking a pose and flexing his biceps.

                He enjoyed seeing himself in the oil smudged glass. It made him feel important. Unique. Like he was the only person in the whole wide world. But he could only daydream for so long. Mr. Tinkles was getting impatient.

                “Okay, okay, Mr. Tinkles. Don’t go soft on me.”

                Pulling down his tighty-whities, Chase let his penis spring to attention.

                God, he loved Mr. Tinkles.

                Granted, he’d never seen another penis in his life, but he was sure that Mr. Tinkles was the best.

                Poking out from beneath a mane of curly brown pubic hair, Mr. Tinkles bade him hello, wagging slightly in the cool morning air. His head was purple, full, and supported by a thick, veiny shaft. His posture wasn’t perfect—he curved to the left a bit—but that didn’t keep him from standing tall.

                “Ready for playtime?” Chase snickered, running his index finger along the length of Mr. Tinkle’s soft underbelly. “I promise we’ll have lots of fun. Remember last time?”

                Mr. Tinkles twitched at the memory, and Chase felt his abdomen tighten. Mr. Tinkles wanted to play really bad today. Chase could feel the blood pulsing between his legs, causing his penis to bounce like a Mexican jumping bean.

                “Oh, you’re bad, Mr. Tinkles. You’re bad.”

                With a wry grin, Chase leapt onto his bed and spread his legs over the sheets. The mattress creaked and groaned beneath him. Reminding him of how big he’d gotten. Then, he went to work.

                He grasped his penis with both hands and began to pump. Up and down, up and down, until Mr. Tinkles began to salivate. His testicles quivered between his thighs, but he couldn’t accommodate them. Not today. Mr. Tinkles was too engorged. His penis wanted to be stroked, petted, pulled, and it wanted it now.

                Slowly, Chase began to pump faster. His hands tightened on his shaft, and he heard a moan escape his lips. Mr. Tinkles wasn’t the only one enjoying their game.

                Shlick, shlick, shlick!

                Some of Mr. Tinkle’s saliva oozed onto Chase’s palms, and Chase responded by pumping harder. He didn’t care that Mr. Tinkles was raw and red. The sensation was overwhelming. It made his back arch and his moth gape. It felt like…like…like…

                Like he was about to explode.

                “Just…a few…more…seconds…”

                Chase wet his lips as the pressure built as the base of his penis. He wasn’t going to last much longer. Mr. Tinkles was straining, pulsating, like a worm regurgitating its food. Then—

                “Oh my god! Chase! Stop that this instant! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

                The sound of Mrs. Stuart’s voice caused Chase’s eyes to snap open, and he released his penis immediately, before it could spew its chunky white sauce onto his stomach.

                “M…mom,” he whimpered, struggling to pull his underwear up from his ankles. “I…I didn’t realize the door was unlocked.”

                “Damn right you didn’t!” his mother said, averting her eyes. Her face was flushed, and her hand automatically rose to her neck, where she kept her Rosary. “Just you wait until your father hears about this. He’s going to give you a tongue lashing you’ll never forget.”

                “But…but I didn’t mean to…I mean, it was an accident. You weren’t supposed to—“

                “I wasn’t supposed to what, Chase? Barge into the room while you’re…you’re masturbating?”

                The last word dripped from his mother’s lips like molten lead, and Chase felt his erection wither. He didn’t like being yelled at. In fact, he preferred eating vegetables and walking home in the rain to being yelled at. And he had a sinking premonition that he was going to get yelled at a lot today.

 

*~*~*

 

That night, Chase found himself in the living room, following a virtually silent family dinner. His parents didn’t believe in withholding food as a form of punishment, which was fortunate for Chase because he was hungry as a mule, but they had other ways of making life miserable. Namely, one-on-one talks, like the one he was stuck in now.

                “Why did you do it, Chase? I just don’t understand,” his father said, in a voice that was neither hostile nor friendly. “Don’t you understand the consequences of your actions? The Bible says that unclean hands are an abomination. And sexual immorality is to be shunned.”

                “I know, I know,” Chase sighed. He was sitting Indian-style on the couch opposite his parents, and was doing everything he could to avoid eye contact. “I just…I don’t know. Got bored. I…forgot it was wrong.”

                “Oh, you did, did you?” his mother said, with a plastic smile. “Did you hear that, Harold? Chase says he forgot it was wrong. Well, I suppose everything is okay since he forgot it was wrong. Isn’t that right, dear?”

                “Yes, honey,” Mr. Stuart said placidly.

                Mrs. Stuart had an annoying habit of talking to Chase indirectly when she was angry.

                “I…I didn’t mean that. I meant—“

                “Meant what?” his mother snapped. “You’ve said sorry a thousand times, but that doesn’t change what you’ve done. You’ve committed a heinous sin in the sight of the lord. In the sight of your redeemer. Your friend. I thought we’d gotten past these childish sins, Chase. You’re thirty years old, for Christ’s sake.”

                “I think what your mother is trying to say,” his father added calmly, “is that you’re not a kid anymore. You need to take responsibility for your actions. You’re special, sure, but you know the difference between right and wrong. You know that sexual activities are for married people only. For husbands and wives.”

                “Then why can’t I get married?” Chase said thickly. “Why can’t I find a wife and have babies?”

                “Because you’re special,” came his mother’s patronizing reply. “God doesn’t want you to have babies. Special people can play sports. They can have friends. But they can’t get married. And they certainly can’t partake in sexual activities. We’ve talked about this a million times. Haven’t you been paying attention during Sunday school?”

                “Yes,” Chase said grudgingly. He was in a deep enough hole already. The last thing he needed was to throw twigs on the fire.

                “Good,” his father concluded. “Then I think we’re done here. You can go back to your room unless you have something else to say. And no comic books either. I want you to go straight to bed.”

                “Yes sir,” Chase grumbled. He felt like a punching bag, but at least the worst was over. If he was lucky, his parents would forget in a few weeks and things would go back to normal. He just needed to keep a low profile.

                Slinking back to his room on a sleeping foot, he closed the door and climbed into bed as quietly as possible. He didn’t want to wake his eleven year old brother, who slept in the room across the hall. Little Stephen was his best friend in the world, Aside from Mr. Tinkles, of course.’

                Ten minutes late, the lights went out in the living room, and Chase heard his parents’ door shut. Soon, he would hear water rush through the pipes as they brushed their teeth and emptied their bowels. Then, they would crawl into bed and their mattress would squeak. It would squeak, and squeak, and squeak. Some nights, it would squeak for a solid hour.

                Chase didn’t understand how it could squeak for so long. His bed didn’t squeak when he went to sleep. It just groaned a bit when he rolled over. Either his parents’ mattress was defective, or they were going to sleep the wrong way. Those were the only two logical explanations,

                Sigh.

                Chase rolled over and was about to switch off the lights when the door creaked open.

                “Hey, you awake?”

                “Of course I’m awake,” Chase replied, indignant. “The lights are still on, aren’t they?”

                “Oh. Sorry.”

                Slowly, the door opened all the way and a diminutive figure waddled inside. It was Chase’s little brother, Stephen. He was dressed in Power Ranger pajamas and his eyes were foggy from sleep.

                “I heard mom and dad yelling at you and it woke me up.”

                “Yeah. Sorry about that,” Chase said as evenly as possible.

                “Well?”

                “Well what?”

                “What were they so angry about?”

                “Oh. It’s nothing.”

                “Didn’t sound like nothing.” Stephen rubbed his eyes, hopped up on the edge of Chase’s bed. “Come on. Tell me what they were angry about. I won’t make fun. I promise. Mom and dad have gotten angry at me lots of times.”

                “Well…if you promise not to laugh…”

                “Cross my heart and hope to die.”

                Chase rolled his eyes. “Fine. This morning, mom walked into the room while I was—“ how had she put it? “—mastur-ba-tating. And she got angry, ‘cause I guess it’s bad.”

                “Huh.” Stephen’s forehead wrinkled. “What’s that?”

                 “Mastur-ba-tation?”

                “Yeah.”

                “It’s where you wait ‘till your pee-pee gets hard. Then you pull on it ‘till stuff comes out.”

                “Weird.”

                “You said it. Anyway, I guess only mommies and daddies are supposed to do that.”

                “Why?”

                “I don’t know. Because the Bible says so.”

                “Oh.” Stephen nodded, as if that explained everything. “Then you’re going to stop?”

                “Stop?” Chase snickered. “No way. It feels too good. I’m just gonna be more careful. I forgot to lock the door last time. That’s how mom found out.”

                “But won’t she figure out what’s happening when she finds the…the stuff on the floor? I don’t know about you, but she cleans my room every week.”

                Chase smiled. He admired his brother’s astuteness. He wished he could’ve been that smart when he was eleven years old.

                “One step ahead of you,” he said, pacing across the room. “Last year, I learned that the one place mom doesn’t clean is the closet. The top shelf of the closet, actually. So that’s where I hide my stash.”

                “Your stash?”

                “Yes. Wanna see it?”

                “Sure,” Stephen said, and watched his brother toss the closet door open.

                A second later, Chase turned around with a dirty glass jar. It was covered in dust and spider webs and, inside, a thick white liquid sloshed. It looked a little like an old vanilla milkshake. But it didn’t smell like an old vanilla milkshake.

                “Pew!” Stephen exclaimed, pinching his nose. “It stinks! What is it?”

                “It’s my stuff!” Chase said proudly, holding it up, into the light. “The stuff that comes from my pee-pee when I pull on it. I usually squirt it in here so mom doesn’t find it. Smart, huh?”

                “Sure,” Stephen said, a little hesitantly. “But what are you gonna do when it gets full?”

                “Good question,” Chase murmured. And it was. He couldn’t simply throw the jar away. He’d have to dump it down the sink. That way, his parents wouldn’t be able to recover it. By dumping it down the sink, though, he’d risk being caught.

                “I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” he said after a moment’s hesitation.

                “That’s cool,” Stephen said, unsuccessfully repressing a yawn. His small arms rose above his head and he stretched, growing more exhausted by the second. It was well past his bedtime.

                “You should get to sleep,” Chase advised him, slipping the jar back into the closet and closing the door. “You have school tomorrow, and you don’t wanna fall asleep in class.”

                “No. No, that wouldn’t be good at all,” Stephen said groggily. He tried to stand, but his knees buckled and he ended up in a pile on the floor. He was done for the day.

                With a chuckle, Chase helped his brother to his feet and guided him to the door. “Think you can make it to your bedroom?” he asked.

                Stephen’s head bobbed like a marionette.

                “Okay. Goodnight then.”

                Releasing his brother’s shoulder, Chase retreated back into his rom. Finally, he could get some shut-eye. He didn’t have early morning classes to attend because his mother insisted on home-schooling him, but he expected a handful of early-morning chores.

                Nothing like the bathroom at seven o’clock in the morning, he thought dismally. Then he sunk into bed and turned out the lights. For a few hours, at least, he could lose himself in dreams and fantasies; in warped kingdoms and strange realities. He could frolic with mythical beasts and mingle with plump, round-faced cherubs. He could immerse himself in a world where he was king. Where only the things he wanted to happen could happen. When his every whim could come true.

                Little did he know what was about to take place in his bedroom closet.

 

*~*~*

 

“Oh man. How did this happen?” Chase frowned, the jar of white fluid in his hands.

                For the past five minutes he’d watched a fuzzy ball of spider eggs float through his semen, and now he felt sick to his stomach. He didn’t like spiders, and he really didn’t like the idea of spiders crawling all over his jar. Let alone laying eggs in it.

                Goosebumps prickled on the back of his arms, and he shoved the jar back into the closet. He couldn’t stand the sight of the fuzzy spider sacs any longer.

                Mr. Tinkles would just have to wait.

                Closing the closet door as quietly as possible, he snuck back to his dresser, where a list of chores lay. It was a long list, as expected, and would take him a majority of the morning to complete.

                Oh well, he sighed inwardly. At least this work will keep my mind off mas-tur-bi-tation.

                Besides, he’d have plenty of time to play with Mr. Tinkles later, when his mother went to the grocery store.

 

*~*~*

 

“Chaaa-aaase!”

                “Yes, Mom?”

                “Dinner’s ready!”

                “Okay, mom. I’ll be there in a minute.”

                “You better hurry. You don’t want it to get cold!”

                “Yes, Mom.”

                Setting aside his stuffed animals, Chase got to his feet. Two weeks had passed since his mother caught him mastur-bi-tating and, thankfully, she seemed to have forgotten all about it.

                He smiled at the memory.

                Sure, it had been awkward at the time, but now he thought it was funny. The look on his mother’s face had been priceless. The way her lips had curled back and her eyes had gone wide made him want to burst out laughing.

                Suddenly he detected movement in the hall.

                “Dad says to come eat your dinner right now,” Stephen informed him, pirouetting on his heel and nearly crashing into the wall. “He says he wants to talk to you about something.”

                “Um…okay,” Chase murmured. He wanted to ask a question or two, so he could figure out what was going on, but common sense stopped him. His father was a secretive man. He liked to keep people in suspense.

                “So…you comin’?” Stephen asked from the doorway. His hair was disheveled, and in the low light he looked more like a goblin than a boy.

                “Yeah. I’m comin’,” Chase replied, feeling sick to his stomach.

                Had his parents discovered the jar in his bedroom closet?

                Had they discovered the knife under his bed?   

                Had they discovered the Tomb Raider video game in his dresser?

                All these questions crossed his mind as he trudged to the dinner table and, by the time he pulled out a chair, he was feeling worse than before. It must have shown on his face, too, because everyone stopped eating when he sat down.

                His parents exchanged curious glances.

                “Something wrong, sport?” his father asked, absent-mindedly stabbing at a greasy meatball.

                “No. I’m just…tired,” Chase replied. He tried to hide his discomfort by filling his face with spaghetti, but it didn’t work.

                “You look worried,” his mother said. “Is something bothering you?” Her eyebrows turned down in a suspicious V, and Chase redirected his gaze.

                “I’m fine,” he lied.

                “I bet he’s upset because we’re in the same grade,” Stephen chuckled, nudging a chunk of tomato around his plate. But his amusement died when his mother’s lips pursed.

                “Stephen Alexander!” she exclaimed. “You know you’re not supposed to talk like that. Your brother can’t help that he’s behind. He’s…special.”

                Special.

                Chase closed his eyes. That word was starting to get on his nerves.

                Almost every day, his parents referred to him as “special”. But what was so special about him? He couldn’t do math, he could barely read, and he wasn’t coordinated enough to play sports. In his book, he wasn’t special at all.

                With a sigh, he leaned back and wiped tomato sauce from his chin.

                “Can I go to my room now?” he asked.

                “Actually, your mother and I wanted to talk to you about something,” his father said, rolling back his sleeves and revealing a pair of formidable forearms.

                “Okay,” Chase said timidly. In that moment, his stomach could have doubled as a butterfly net.

                “About a week ago,” his father began, in a deceptively even voice, “your mother and I started hearing noises late at night. At first, we didn’t think anything of it. We figured it was the house, creaking and groaning. But the more we heard it, the more doubtful we became.”

                “In fact, the noises grew louder and louder each night,” his mother added, using her napkin to wipe a spot from the tablecloth. “Do you know what we’re talking about?”

                Chase swallowed with difficulty. In the back of his mind, he was aware that he said “no”, but the rest of his brain spun with anxiety.

                This is it, he told himself. They heard me mastur-bi-tating and now they’re going to punish me for it. They’re going to lock me in my room for weeks, without toys or movies. They’re going to take away my television-watching privileges. And they’re going to make me eat broccoli and asparagus every night for a month.

                The mere thought made his head hurt.

                Then…something surprising happened.

                His parents sat back in their chairs and shrugged their shoulders. They weren’t mad at all.

                “How odd,” his mother said. “We were sure you’d heard it. Why, everyone in the house heard it, and it was coming from your bedroom.”

                “Muh…my bedroom?” Chase stuttered, ears burning.

                “Yes,” his father said. “Your closet, actually. One night your mother and I snuck into your bedroom and located the sound. We didn’t open the door, obviously, because we didn’t want to wake you, but we’re fairly certain that it was coming from the walls.”

                “The walls?” Chase blinked twice. His head was reeling.

                “Yes dear,” his mother said softly. “We think a family of rats has come to live in the wall. It’s no big deal, really, but we’re having a verminator come over early tomorrow to take care of the problem. He’s going to spread some poisoned pellets in your closet and in the attic, so we’d like you to stay out of your room for a while, okay?  At least until the problem is taken care of.”

                “Okay,” Chase answered dryly. He didn’t know what else to say. He felt stupid uttering one and two-word sentences, but his tongue was swollen as a dead cow in the depths of summer.

                Sure, he needed to get rid of the jar before the verminator arrived, but for the most part, he was in the clear. His parents were blissfully ignorant of what he did at night. And hopefully, that wouldn’t change in the near future.

 

*~*~*

 

Breathing a sigh of relief, Chase slipped into his room following a rousing game of slapjack. His family was crazy about card games and, since slapjack was the only game he could play fluently, that’s the one they’d settled on.

                He massaged his hand as he walked to the closet. The rounds of slapjack had been fun but, now that family night was over, he had work to do. He had to get rid of his jar before morning.

                Rubbing his nose, he grasped the edge of his closet door. It was open slightly, and he could smell a noxious odor flowing between the cracks.

                Something was definitely not right.

                Tossing the door open as quickly as he could, he gazed-up toward the top shelf and—

                Found it completely empty.

                “What the heck?”

                Slowly, he stepped forward and felt along the dusty surface. His fingers glazed back and forth, back and forth, but all he found was cobwebs.

                That’s when he felt a cold, semi-gelatinous liquid seep through his sock.

                “For the love of Mary!” he exclaimed, stooping down to inspect the broken jar at his feet. “So that’s what happened to you. Shee-it. The rats must’ve knocked you off in the night. Dumb rats. Now I have to clean you up before tomorrow morning. What a waste of time.”

                Grumbling to himself unhappily, he gathered a dustpan and broom from the laundry room and went to work sweeping up the shattered glass. It wasn’t an easy task, considering that the smaller shards were buried in the carpet, but he did the best he could and swabbed up the excess fluid with a towel.

                After all was said and done, however, he still had the salty, odious aroma to deal with. The room smelled as though a giant had jerked off on the floor and, as an afterthought, had rubbed his sweaty nut sack across the walls.

                Fortunately, his mother kept a can of air sanitizer in the kitchen, which he promptly stole and emptied into the closet, until the place smelled like a damned peach orchard. Then, feeling emotionally and physically drained, he collapsed onto his bed and drifted into a deep, dreamless sleep. The likes of which he hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.

 

*~*~*

 

Swoosh, swoosh, swoosh.

                Chase swept the broom back and forth over the porch, watching as clouds of dust billowed up from beneath the stiff bristles. Sweeping wasn’t his favorite pastime, but he didn’t have much choice in the matter. As long as the verminator was inside, spreading his chemicals, Chase was relegated to the front yard.

                “Dumb, stupid, verminator.”

                Turning around, Chase spied the bald, forty-year old man through the living room window. He was wearing gray suspenders and big rubber boots. The kind Chase recognized from fishing shops and outdoor magazines. The man held a clipboard in his hand, and every once in a while he made notes on the wrinkled, ink-stained paper.

                “Well, that should be it, then,” the bald man said as Mrs. Stuart looked on. His voice was low and throaty, muted by the thick pane of glass.  “Just sign right here. Once we get this contract taken care of, I’ll start working. Vermin infestation is fairly common this time of year. As the weather gets cold, rodents go looking for warmer pastures. I’m surprised you haven’t had this problem before, considering how old this house is.”

                “I suppose you’re right,” Mrs. Stuart replied, taking the proffered pen and jotting down her name. “This house has seen its fair share of winters. I just can’t understand how a family of rodents could get in. We’re a very cleanly family.”

                “Well, those varmints don’t require much of an opening,” the bald man chuckled. “They can fit through cracks less than an inch high. Most likely, one pregnant female snuck inside, had her babies in the attic, and now you have a whole mess of ‘em crawlin’ around. Shouldn’t be too hard to get rid of, though.”

                “I hope not,” Mrs. Stuart murmured. “They’ve kept us up at night for a week. And they seem to get louder every day.”

                “Oh. Poor me. They get louder every day,” Chase said in a patronizing tone, setting the broom aside and letting himself slump up against the house. He was sick of being outside in the chilly weather. It wasn’t snowing, but the wind was howling like a lovesick banshee and his jacket wasn’t doing much to banish the cold.

                Stiffly, he loped down the front steps. There had to be some way he could get back inside without his mother noticing. Maybe the back door was unlocked. Or maybe his bedroom window was ajar. If that was the case, he could simply remove the screen and climb in.

                Unfortunately, both modes of entry were locked tight.

                “Ah, fudge,” he muttered, standing before his bedroom window. “Now what am I supposed to do?”

                His fingers felt numb from the cold, and he could see his breath curl into the brisk morning air.

                Great. Just great.

                How could things get any worse?

                Pressing his palms to the frosty glass, he gazed into his warm bedroom. The verminator was kneeling next to his closet with a bottle of brown pellets in his hand.

                Rat poison, Chase thought instinctively. He might’ve been stupid, but he wasn’t that stupid.

                Part of him wanted to knock on the glass and tell the bald man to get the heck out of his room, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. The man had a job to do. Besides, his parents would ground him if they found out.

                Releasing a deep, unhappy sigh, he stepped back and thrust his hands in his pockets. The only thing he could do was grit his teeth and watch the man work. It was boring as shit, but it beat the hell out of sweeping the front porch.

                After about five minutes, the verminator finished spreading pellets around the floor of the closet and stood up thoughtfully. He seemed to be perplexed by something. His brow was wrinkled, and he kept drumming his stubby fingers against his thigh.

                Maybe he’s wondering which trap he should use, Chase thought.

                But that wasn’t the case.

                Standing on his tip-toes, the verminator reached into the closet and began rapping on the wall. His knuckles sent hollow thuds echoing through the house. Then, suddenly, he stopped, and his expression changed.

                Curious, Chase pressed his face to the window. From this angle, he couldn’t see much of the closet, but he could see plenty of verminator. And judging by the man’s eyes, something was going horribly wrong.

                Chase held his breath as the man edged away from the closet. The man’s face had gone from pink and round to pale and gaunt in a matter of seconds. He looked as though he were staring into the bowels of hell itself.

                “Oh, no. Oh, no no no no no,” he seemed to say, rubbed boots bearing him away from the darkened closet.

                Before he could reach the door, though, a spiny object shot from the closet and wrapped around his neck, causing his bladder to void. He tried to scream, but the object—the limb—squeezed too tight. Spittle foamed at his lips and dripped down his chin. His face turned purple.

                “Help…me…” he gargled, urine-drenched legs kicking. He tried to pry the thick, spine-covered limb from his neck, but after a minute, he was too weak to struggle. His arms fell to his sides like an oversized rag doll while his pupils, tiny and bloodshot, flickered about the room desperately.

                It was the end, Chase realized. The man’s life was dangling by a thread, and there was nothing he could do about it.

                Wracked with guilt, Chase tried to slip away from the window. His mind was spinning, and he didn’t rightly know what to do. He felt like a deer in headlights.

                That’s when their eyes met.

                Cold, blue, and seconds from death, the man gazed out the window imploringly. His struggling had ceased, and he hung in the thing’s grip with a sort of terrified resignation.

                “I…I’m sorry,” Chase stuttered. “I…I…I…”

                Thump.

                Before Chase could finish his sentence, the man’s head dropped forward and hit his chest, sending tendrils of blood and saliva oozing to the carpet. It was not an easy scene to watch. Chase felt his stomach knot.

                Then, without warning, the verminator’s body disappeared into the closet. It happened so fast that Chase’s knees buckled, and he ended up ass-deep in the dry grass.

                “Holy chest and crackers,” he sputtered, crawling feverishly away from his bedroom. He knew he should tell someone about what had transpired, but would anyone believe him? Probably not. Most likely, his parents would call him crazy and ground him for lying.

                Halfway around the house, he scrambled to his feet and ran to the front porch. His knees were stiff as cinderblocks and his fingertips ached from the cold, but he didn’t pay any attention to them. He needed to verify what he’d seen.

                Barreling through the door, he ran straight to his room, heart pounding.

                He could hear his mother in the laundry room, humming to herself while the washing machine jostled. She was completely oblivious to what had taken place down the hall.

                Then again, had anything happened down the hall?

                There was a chance—a small chance—that he’d imagined the whole ordeal. His imagination tended to run away with him sometimes. But it had seemed so real.

                Coming to clumsy halt outside his bedroom, he let his eyes scour the floor. If he’d really seen what he thought he’d seen, there would be some evidence. Like in the television show CSI. There would be blood or scraps or clothing or—

                Saliva.

                With a growing sense of trepidation, Chase knelt down and ran his fingers across the carpet. As he feared, they came back wet.

                Now there was no doubt.

                Something was living in his closet.

 

*~*~*

 

“Mom? Can we talk for a minute?”

                Chase swallowed nervously. His mother was in the kitchen, making dinner, but he needed to speak with her. There was a throbbing tumor of guilt in his chest, one that had been gnawing at him all day.

                “What’s that, dear?” his mother asked over her shoulder. She was busy flipping something on the stove.

                “I said: can we talk for a minute?” Chase repeated. His mother wasn’t the most attentive person when she was in cooking mode.

                “Oh. Sure, hon. What is it?” she said, turning briefly and flashing him a plastic smile.

                “Well…” he stammered. “It has to do with this morning. When the verminator came over.”

                “Oh, yes,” she murmured. “He was a strange character. Nice enough, but he left rather suddenly—and without saying goodbye. Anyway. What about this morning?”

                “Well…”

                Once again, Chase found himself at a loss for words. He couldn’t just come out and tell her what he’d seen. He had to take a more roundabout approach.

                Taking a deep breath, he started again.

                “You know in the Bible, where it says ‘do not murder’? Well, I was wondering if that, like, applies to everything. Not just us humans.”

                “What do you mean, honey?”

                His mother retrieved a jar of salt from the cupboard.

                “Um…well…suppose that something killed something else. And that something wasn’t a human. Would it be wrong?”

                “I don’t follow you, dear.”

                Chase gritted his teeth. This was going to be harder than he expected.

                “What I’m saying is…would it be wrong for a non-human thing to…ah…kill a human? A human like you or me?”

                “You mean like a jaguar or a mountain lion?” His mother adjusted a frying pan over the burner.

                “Uh…sure. I guess so.”

                “Well,” she began, apron aflutter, “when God made the world, he made it perfect. All the animals got along with each other. There were no wars or famines. There was no death. When Adam and Eve sinned, however, God cursed the earth. His creatures became finite and evil. That’s when they began eating one another. So, in a sense, I suppose all killing is wrong. No matter what is being killed. But it’s especially wrong for a human to be killed.”

                “And…uh…why’s that?” Chase asked. Deep inside his heart he knew the answer, but he wanted to be sure.

                “Because humans are made in God’s image, silly,” his mother murmured, not bothering to turn around.  “Why, you ought to know that. You were just going over that in Sunday School.”

                “Oh. Yeah,” Chase said morosely. He lowered his eyes.

                This conversation was not going according to plan. Instead of banishing his guilt, his mother was heaping on more and more. Every word that escaped from her lips caused another ten pounds to drop on his shoulders.

                Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and slipped back to his room. He still didn’t know what he should do, but the silence was more agreeable than his mother’s convicting voice.

 

*~*~*

 

That night, Chase didn’t sleep a wink. He just sat on the edge of his bed and watched the closet, the scent of old semen and air sanitizer mixing in his nostrils.

                He couldn’t rest with the knowledge that something was hiding in the dark corners of his closet, waiting to pounce.

                Sure, it probably wouldn’t come out seeking new prey for a while as it had the verminator’s suspender-clad carcass to nourish it, but that didn’t put his mind at ease. If anything, it made him more nervous. The image of the verminator’s cold, waxen corpse lying somewhere in the house made the very marrow in his bones shiver.

                He didn’t like the thought of death. And he liked the thought of dead things even less. Especially when they were in close proximity to him. He couldn’t focus on anything else, though.

                At seven o’clock in the morning, he rose stiffly, rubbed his eyes, pulled a clean shirt over his sinewy shoulders, and loped to the kitchen. It was Saturday, and the scent of eggs and bacon filled the house.

                “Hey there, sport,” his father said, sitting cross-legged at the head of the table. “Got any big plans for the day? Gonna go fishin’ at the pond, maybe? Or play Frisbee at the park with Stephen?”

                “I dunno,” Chase answered simply. His throat was dry and his back was sore from slouching all night long. “Maybe I’ll go fishing. Catch a fish or two.”

                “That sounds like a fine idea,” his father said. “You look like you could use a break. Your eyes are red as the devil himself.”

                “Yeah,” Chase mumbled. “I guess they are.”

                He didn’t mention the fact that he hadn’t slept a wink. Or that something had been rustling around in his closet. Or that the verminator had been killed in his room. Right now, his father didn’t need to know those things.

                Gathering a plate from the cupboard, Chase shuffled to the stove. There were three pans simmering over low heat, filling the kitchen with mouthwatering scents, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at them. Their contents had all been living, breathing creatures once: pigs, cows and chickens. And now…they were nothing. They were sizzling lumps of flesh and butter, long dead.

                “Something wrong, buddy?” his father said, noticing his discomfort.

                Chase turned with a start. “Oh. No. Nothing’s wrong,” he said, cheeks turning a rich shade of crimson. “I’m just not hungry. That’s all. I think I’ll head to the pond, if that’s okay.”

                His father shrugged. “That’s fine with me. Just be quiet when you leave. Stephen is still asleep. Oh, and Chase?”

                “Yes?”

                Chase felt his stomach clench.

                “Keep up the good work. Your mother and I have seen a change in your attitude over the past few days, and we’re very proud of you. You’re really showing some maturity. You’re providing a positive role model for your younger brother. And in this day and age, that’s something to be applauded.”

                “Oh. Um. Thanks,” Chase sputtered. Then he fled the kitchen as quickly as he could, trying not to look as guilty as he felt. He couldn’t wait to get to the pond, where he could be alone with his thoughts.

 

*~*~*

 

Clank!

                Mrs. Stuart fit the last of the breakfast dishes into the washing machine and pivoted to survey her handiwork. The sink was clean as a whistle, the counters were freshly dusted and the floor was wet from a thorough mopping.

                By all accounts, she should’ve been done tidying up for the day. But she wasn’t.

                Every five minutes, a sound like fingernails raking against cement would split the silence. It wasn’t loud by any stretch of the imagination, but it was there, and it was driving her crazy.

                A new rodent family must have invaded the walls.

                Unhappily, she drummed her fingers on the counter. She couldn’t be certain, but the sound seemed to be coming from above her, in the attic.

                Any other day she would have ignored it, called the verminator, scheduled a return visit, and gone about her business, but today she couldn’t. Today it plucked the wrong nerve strings and caused her to lose her patience.

                With a heavy sigh, she took off her rubber gloves, tossed them beneath the sink, and stormed to the hallway, where the attic door lay. It took several hops to snag the chord, but eventually she was successful, and down came the ladder.

                “Pew. What’s that smell?” she groaned, brushing dust from her white skirt. Usually, the attic smelled of mold, mildew and mothballs. But this time it didn’t. This time it smelled sweet. Sickeningly sweet. As if someone had left a side of beef in the sun for too long.

                “Harold, dear, would you bring me a flashlight?” she called, using one hand to plug her nose. “There’s something in the attic, and I want to see what it is.”

                A minute passed without a response.

                “Oh Harold, dear. I know you can hear me,” she cried again. “Be a darling and bring me the flashlight. I just cleaned the kitchen, and I’m in no mood for your shenanigans.”

                Still, no response.

                Then it dawned on her: Harold wasn’t home. He’d taken Stephen to the park. And Chase was at the pond, fishing. That meant she was home alone.

                “Oh well,” she muttered angrily. “That stupid flashlight’s probably out of batteries anyway. I’ll be fine without it. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to be crawling around up there. I’m just going to take a quick look.”

                Or was she.

                Already, she was having second thoughts. The scent alone was enough to make her vomit. It was warm and sticky, and it tasted bitter in her mouth, but she wouldn’t let herself be bested by a rodent—one of God’s lowliest creatures.

                Filling her lungs with fresh air, she took hold of the ladder and marched up the rungs.

                “Don’t look now,” she called as she reached the top and heaved herself into the stifling darkness. “The farmer’s wife is coming to get you and cut off your tails with a carving knife! Better run while you still can! You don’t want to wake up without tails, do you?”

                She snickered at her own wit, but quickly went silent. A melancholy atmosphere had spread through the house.

                Deep down, she knew that something bad was about to happen. She knew it with every fiber of her being, but she refused to believe it. She told herself that God would protect her.

                She failed to take into account the devil and his wiles.

                Allowing her eyes a moment to adjust, she stood and glanced about the room. It was dark, but streams of light managed to enter through the shuttered attic window.

                Here and there, old wooden chests were scattered, brimming with old clothes and books. A few plastic totes were piled among them, holding toys and trinkets that Stephen had outgrown, but most containers were ancient and covered in dust—forgotten by the house’s previous owners.

                Stepping over a dented lampshade, she approached the corner, where a lime-green coffee table sat in solitude. She couldn’t tell where the skritch-scratching sound was coming from, but the attic was only so big. It couldn’t hide a family of rodents forever.

                Getting down on her hands and knees, she made a visual sweep of the room. From this angle, she could see beneath the miscellaneous furniture that cluttered the floor, but it was rather uncomfortable. Dust clogged her nostrils and splinters poked at her legs.

                Finally, she tired of stooping and climbed awkwardly to her feet. This was going nowhere. Even if she did find the rodents, what would she do? Trap them? Not likely. Especially if the verminator’s traps had failed. She might as well give up now.

                Unhappily, she turned in a circle…and gasped.

                Something had moved along the far wall!

                Sucking in her breath, she tiptoed across the room. She was determined not to make a sound and scare the creature—whatever it might be—away.

                Perhaps one of the neighborhood cats had found a way into the attic and gotten itself stuck. Or perhaps a curious squirrel had wedged itself between the slats in the attic window and decided to stay for the winter. There were a million possibilities. Just because the creature was making skritch-scratching sounds didn’t mean it was a mouse.

                With that in mind, she edged forward until she was mere inches from a stack of raggedy, rust-covered mattresses. Then she reached out her hand, touched the edge of a moth eaten box spring…and recoiled in terror.

                The mattresses weren’t covered in rust after all. They were covered in blood. Partially congealed, that clung to her fingertips like molasses.

                Stifling a scream, she backed toward the attic door. Her head was spinning, and the sickly sweet scent summoned bile into her throat. If she didn’t recover quickly, there would be regurgitated eggs and bacon all over the place.

                Steadying herself against a support beam, she focused on her breathing. She wasn’t into that pagan yoga, but she believed wholeheartedly in relaxation techniques.

                “Calm down,” she told herself anxiously. “Everything is okay. The Lord protects his servants. His son was in the desert for forty days without food or water, for goodness sake. Compared to that, I’m taking a walk in the park.”

                “Yes, but didn’t he the Chrisssssst, the anointed Sssssson of God, die on a crossssss?” a breathy voice said from the darkness.

                Mrs. Stuart froze.

                “Who’s there?” she called. “Harold, is that you? Or…or is it Stephen? Shame on you, whoever you are. Now get out her before I decide to whip you to kingdom come.”

                “Ssssssorry. I can’t do that,” the breathy voice returned, after a moment’s pause.

                “What?” Mrs. Stuart pursed her lips. Anger was quickly replacing the fear in her veins. “Don’t you dare talk to me that way, mister. Either you get out here on the count of three, or I’m going to come back there and drag you out. Understood?”

                This time, silence mingled in her ears.

                “That’s it,” she growled. “One…two…three.”

                And on the count of three, she stomped forward, grabbed the pile of mattresses, and flung them aside with a fury so righteous, Moses himself would have blushed. Only, it didn’t last. As soon as the mattresses hit the floor, her knees went weak.

                There, crouched in the corner, was a dark figure. And below the dark figure lay a placid corpse, its eyes milky white and its lips icy blue. The corpse’s clothing had been removed, and its chest was opened from sternum to navel, revealing a greasy conglomeration of organs.

                “I told you I couldn’t come out,” the figure hissed. “It’s not polite to talk with one’sssss mouth full.”

                Mrs. Stuart gaped. But before she could look away, the figure turned its head and fixed her with a pearly smile. A length of intestine hung from its lips, and blood spattered its cheeks, giving it the appearance of a deranged circus clown. Except…there was something vaguely familiar about it.

                Mrs. Stuart struggled to focus her eyes as the creature rose and maneuvered its massive body out from behind the stack of mattresses.

                Yes, she was sure she’d seen those two blue eyes before. Not to mention that nose…and that doubled chin…and those high cheek bones.

                My God.

                “Ch…Chase?” she sputtered, heart throbbing in her chest. “Is…is that you?”

                She tried to position herself beside the door so that she could flee quickly, if necessary, but the dark figure was too fast. It scuttled across the floor in a blur, blocking her escape route.

                “Now, now,” It cooed menacingly, broad shoulders tensing, “why don’t you sssssit yourssssself down and relax? I have a few quessssstions to assssk about this…Jeeeeesus character before you go.”

                “You…you mean you’re going to let me…live?” Mrs. Stuart stuttered, half falling into the pile of blood-soaked mattresses.

                “Why, of courssssse not,” the figure chuckled. “What gave you that ssssilly idea? I ssssimply want to talk before you go to the other ssssside. That issss what you Chrissssstians want, issssn’t it? To be with your Lord and Sssssavior?”

                “Muh…muh…muh…” Mrs. Stuart whimpered.

                It was all she could do to avoid passing out.

 

*~*~*

 

                “Mo-om! I’m ho-ome!” Chase cried as he pushed through the front door. The day at the pond had given him some perspective, and now he felt good as new. He was sure that the whole ordeal in his bedroom had just been a bad dream. Monsters simply didn’t exist in the real world. They didn’t go around choking people with snake-like appendages, and they certainly didn’t live in closets.

                With a laugh, he set his fishing gear next to the couch and pranced to the kitchen. His mother’s car was in the driveway, so she had to be home. She rarely left the house on the weekend. Between cleaning and doing laundry, she was busy all day.

                “Mo-om!” he tried again, tapping his foot on the tile. “Come out, come out wherever you are! I caught a fish, and I need your help guttin’ it! I don’t want it to go bad.”

                Only, his mother didn’t reply.

                Releasing a sigh of exasperation, he trudged to his bedroom.

                “Fine,” he murmured, reaching his mattress and sitting down heavily. “I don’t need her help. I’ll just wait for dad to get home. He’ll help me clean my fish. Besides, that’ll give me time to play with you, Mr. Tinkles.”

                Blood rushed between his legs at the thought.

                Ever since the verminator had disappeared, he hadn’t been very playful. He’d been too worried; too wrapped up in his own imagination. Today was a new day, though.

                Shutting the door, he began tugging at his belt buckle. Mr. Tinkle was hard as a rock long before he managed to drop his jeans, and he shivered as the fabric rubbed against the head of his penis.

                The next moment his hand was in his underwear, and he was sprawled out on the floor, naked legs trembling. The sensation was overwhelming. He had to bite his lip to keep from crying out in pure, unadulterated pleasure. Then…something fell on his chest.

                He blinked twice.

                Was it just his imagination, or was there a dot of blood on his skin?

                Slowly, he reached out and touched it.

                Yes, it was definitely blood. But where had it come from?

                Mr. Tinkles throbbed as he looked up to the ceiling.

                “Oh…my…gosh…” he murmured, feeling suddenly cold and vulnerable.

                The ceiling above him was completely saturated in blood, as if a large animal’s throat had been slashed in the attic.

                A second droplet fell on his chest, and he scrambled to his feet in awe. He wasn’t scared, exactly. He was more intrigued by the amount of crimson fluid seeping through his ceiling. He’d never seen that much before.

                Hiking his jeans up around his waist, he edged toward the closet. There was a faint sound coming from within. It wasn’t much more than a skritch-skritch-skritch, but it was enough to draw his attention.

                “Huh…hullo?” he called. The door was shut, and he grasped the knob tentatively. It felt like ice beneath his fingertips. “Is…there somebody in there?”

                The scratching paused.

                “Stephen, is that you? You’re not trying to scare me, are you? That wouldn’t be very nice.”

                Chase frowned.

                Logically, Stephen had to be in the closet. He was the only one who could fit inside it. Chase’s mother and father were far too big. Yet, he couldn’t bring himself to open the door. The image of the verminator’s cold, trembling body was seared into his memory.

                A minute passed without a sound, and Chase took a deep breath. He couldn’t be scared of his closet forever. He was a man, and men didn’t run away from their problems. They faced them head-on.

                Still…

                He felt a trickle of sweat run down his palm. His fingers were moist, and the coppery scent of blood wafted through his nostrils like a cloud of methane gas. He’d chicken out if he waited much longer.

                Gritting his teeth until they aced, he took a step forward, turned the knob, and threw the door open with all his might, prepared to look into the eyes of death itself. Only, the closet was empty.

                “What the…?”

                Chase furrowed his brow.

                Not two minutes ago, something had been inside his closet. He’d heard it.

                Was this part of a cruel joke after all?

                Anxiously, he felt the inside of the closet. There had to be a false wall or a removable shelf somewhere. Not even Houdini could get in and out of a room without a door or a window. He’d learned that by watching the Discovery Channel.

                The longer he searched, though, the more discouraged he became. The closet appeared to be impregnable as a fortress…until a section of the ceiling gave way, and a dark, malodorous face peered out from the shadows.

                “Holy smokes!” Chase cried, falling onto his back in surprise. He wanted to run, but his feet wouldn’t cooperate. They felt like lead. “Wha…what are you doing in my closet?”

                The face licked its lips in amusement. It had blood spattered across its cheeks.

                “I wasssss waiting,” it said simply.

                “W…waiting for what?”

                Chase couldn’t hide the fear from his voice.

                “You, of courssssse.”

                “Why me?”

                The face hissed in amusement, revealing two rows of razor-sharp teeth. Its breath stank of rotting fish, mold and decay.

                “Issssn’t that obvioussss?”

                “No,” Chase whimpered, fumbling to his knees with all the grace of a two-year old. He was hoping to make a break for the door but, as he summoned up the remains of his courage, the face began to rotate. And as it rotated, it became more than a face.

                First, a pair of shoulders emerged from the shadows. Big, broad shoulders, covered in spines. Then, a pair of long, spider-like legs, which it used to lever itself through the hole. But it didn’t stop there. Two more legs appeared soon after, followed by another two, and another two—all of which were attached to a bulbous, pus-colored thorax.

                Flexing its jaws, the creature cleared the hole and dropped to the floor on eight spiny legs. It was heavy, and when it hit the carpet, it did so with a resounding thump! From head to toe, it must have stood five feet tall.

                Chase averted his eyes. He didn’t want to look at the arachnid freak.

                “Just leave me alone!” he cried.

                “I’m afraid I can’t do that,” the creature hissed, crawling forward. Every step made its massive thorax quiver. “I’ve feasssssted on your mother. Now we can be together. Forever.”

                “What are you talking about?” Chase returned. Hot tears burned in his eyes, but he refused to let them run down his cheeks. “What makes you th…think I want to be near you?”

                “Becaussssse,” the creature said, laying a spiny appendage on his shoulder, “I’m your sssssssson.”

                “What!?” Chase exclaimed, throwing himself back onto his bed. He couldn’t believe what he’d been told. “I’m n…not your father. I’m nobody’s father. This has to be a trick.”

                But it wasn’t a trick.

                As the creature moved forward on its massive legs, Chase saw the resemblance. Not only did the creature have his eyes, his nose, his cheek bones and his lips, it had his build, too. It was covered in muscle, from its slightly human shoulders to its distinctly arachnid thorax.

                Chase felt as though he was looking in the mirror.

                Then, it all made sense.

                “Oh my gosh,” he whispered.

                The thing standing before him really was his son. In a way, at least.

                Three weeks ago, when the spider eggs fell into his jar of semen, some sort of mutation must have occurred. The arachnid genes must have mixed with his human genes, causing a hybrid to develop. That was the only plausible explanation. But it was still crazy.

                Chase frowned.

                Humans and insects couldn’t reproduce. He’d heard that on television. Unless…

                Unless that’s my special ability! He thought excitedly.

                His parents had been telling him that he was special for his entire life, but he hadn’t known how he was special until now!

                Suddenly, he was no longer afraid. Goosebumps stopped prickling up and down his arms. Sweat stopped pooling down his forehead. He felt happy. Genuinely happy, for the first time in his life.

                Why?

                Because he had a son. The creature standing opposite him, with blood coating its jaws, was his son. His offspring. The result of his seed. And that filled him with joy. He wouldn’t have to be alone for the rest of his life. He could have children. Lots of children. As many children as he wanted, in as many varieties as he wanted.

                If his hunch was true, he could have a dog-human son…and a cat-human son…and a bird-human son…and a whale-human son…and a zebra-human son. He could have a squirrel-human son…and a fish-human son…and a fox-human son. Heck, he could have a horse-human daughter too!

                The possibilities were endless.

                All he had to do was get Mr. Tinkles hard.

Brain Damage * #13/JS

~Sometimes I like a little humor with my gore and disturbing behavior~

Yes, I dropped my baby sister.

                Not on purpose. God, no.

                It happened while I was babysitting her. She was six months old, and I’d just turned nine. Too young to be responsible for an infant, but to be fair to my mom, she hadn’t gone out for a wild night on the town or anything like that. All she did was ask me to watch Laurie for a few minutes while she went to talk to our next-door neighbor. Laurie was asleep in her crib, so it really shouldn’t have been a big deal.

                The things is, when you’re nine, you don’t necessarily obey all of your mother’s instructions. Such as, oh, I don’t know, the one about not taking your baby sister out of her crib. I wasn’t trying to hurt her, I just wanted to pick her up. She didn’t wake up as I lifted her, but she did when I walked around the living room with her—I don’t think I was holding her right.

                She started to squirm and cry and before I could get her back into the crib, she slipped out of my hands. Laurie hit the ground, head-first.

                The floor was carpeted, so it’s not like I dropped her onto concrete, but I still let out a gasp of one-hundred-percent absolute horror. I scooped up my sobbing sister and hurriedly put her back in her crib, feeling like I was going to throw up and hyperventilate at the same time.

                I checked her head. There was a pink mark, but no blood or skull chips. I watched her for several minutes, stomach acids boiling. She stopped crying and went back to sleep.

                As soon as my mom came home, I said, “I’ll be in my room!” and ran upstairs. I didn’t want her to see me trembling. I closed my bedroom door and sat on my bed, an open comic book in front of me, waiting for the inevitable shout of “Oh my God! What did you do to your sister?”

                It never came.

                My dad got home from work, and my mom called me down to dinner. We had a nice meal of Hamburger Helper and my mom didn’t say a single word about me potentially ruining my sister. Maybe Laurie was okay.

                While Mom and Dad did the dishes, I walked over to the crib and peered over the side at her. The pink mark was gone. Laurie looked at me and giggled.

                I had an awful dream that night. Laurie, who had the body of a nine year old but kept her infant head, stood in front of the blackboard at school. She was trying to do a simple arithmetic problem. There was a huge chunk missing from her skull, and I could see her brain writhing around inside. It crawled out, sliced itself in half on a jagged piece of bone, and splattered onto the floor.

                I had the same dream every night that week. Although the arithmetic problem changed each time.

~ * ~ * ~

I knew I should tell my parents what I’d done so they could take Laurie to the doctor, but I couldn’t bring myself to confess. This wasn’t like having a messy room or sneaking some red licorice from my dad’s private stash—if I had really hurt my sister, they might send me away. Even though I was scared for her, she seemed fine. Mom and Dad would know if something was wrong with her, right?

                Of course they would. Parents knew when something was wrong with their kids. They could sense it.

                Laurie was fine.

~ * ~  * ~

I pretty much stopped worrying about it until Laurie’s first birthday. It was an outdoor party. She was crawling around on the grass in our backyard, while about a dozen relatives chatted and drank. I’d been allowed to invite one friend to the party, so I’d invited Howie Taylor because he had the best comic books.

                “You know who’s boring?” he asked.

                “Who?”

                “Your baby sister.”

                We giggled at this clever, insightful observation.

                “You know who else is boring?” he asked.

                “Who?”

                “Your baby sister.”

                We giggled some more. Howie was a witty guy, although I still only liked him for his comic books.

                Laurie cooed and picked up an earthworm. It was a small one, just over an inch long, and it wrapped itself around her index finger. She smiled, then popped it into her mouth and chewed happily.

                Howie burst into hysterical laughter. “Did you see that? Did you see her eat the worm?”

                I couldn’t even nod. Laurie’s birthday cake felt like a chocolate-flavored rock in my stomach. Were babies supposed to eat worms? Was that normal? I had no idea. She was only one year old, so it was entirely possible that her sucking down a raw earthworm was nothing to be concerned about…but what if it wasn’t normal? What if she was brain damaged?

                “What’s going on?” my mom asked, walking over to join us.

                I tried to respond, but my mouth went completely dry. What was I supposed to say? “Sorry, Mom, I think that my disobedience six months ago has transformed my sister into a worm-chomping freak?”

                “Laurie scarfed a worm!” Howie gleefully announced.

                “Oh, yuck.” My mom crouched down and poked her finger into Laurie’s mouth. She dug out an uneaten piece of worm and flicked it onto the grass, then wiped some drool off Laurie’s lips.

                “She’s going to poop worms tonight,” said Howie.

                “Behave yourself,” my mom warned. She’d never much liked Howie.

                “I don’t think she ate it on purpose,” I said. Yeah, it was a dumb thing to say, but I was scared and sweating and not thinking straight.

                My mom scooped Laurie into her arms and stood up. She didn’t seem too distraught about what my sister had done. Maybe it was just a normal thing for a baby to do. Maybe I’d eaten a bug or two at that age. They probably tasted good, and we simply had that activity socialized out of us.

                My mom sat back down with a couple of my aunts. The party atmosphere hadn’t been disrupted. Clearly, my sister was not insane.

                That evening, while Mom and Dad watched television, I snuck down into the basement to retrieve a dead roach. I’d noticed it laying on a cardboard box a couple of days ago but saw no reason to move it until now. I brought it upstairs and placed it in Laurie’s crib, right in front of her.

                Would she dine?

                Laurie poked at the insect, laughed, and returned to playing with her Sesame Street Grover doll.

                She didn’t try to eat it. That was good.

                What if she just wasn’t hungry?

                What if she only craved live bugs?

                I picked up the roach and placed it on Grover’s stomach, to give her another chance. Laurie ignored it. Though I wanted to do further study, I also didn’t want my parents to see me messing with dead roaches around my baby sister, so I pocketed the bug and watched Laurie play.

                She looked normal.

                She was normal. So what if she ate a worm? I was just being paranoid about the whole thing. If all she ever did was sit in the corner of her crib and drool, then we’d have something to be concerned about.

                I’d made a mistake, but no harm had come from it, and it was way past time to forget the whole matter.

~ *  ~ *  ~

Okay, it was way past time to forget the whole matter…after I consulted with an expert.

                “Hey, Jacob, how’s it going?” I asked, walking over to Jacob Terremy during afternoon recess. He looked at me suspiciously. We were both in the third grade, but he was in Mrs. Hansen’s class while I was with Mrs. Raver, and we didn’t interact very often. He got beat up a lot.

                “Okay.”

                “Your dad’s a shrink, right?”

                “Yeah.”

                “If you drop a baby on its head, you can mess it up, right?”

                “Well, duh. Yeah.”

                “How can you tell?” I asked.

                “You mean if you turned it into a retard?”

                I shook my head. “I just mean messed up. Doing weird things like eating bugs and stuff.”

                “Retards eat bugs.”

                “Really?”

                “Yeah. It’s cool.”

                “Can the mom and dad always tell?”

                “Nah. Some parents are even worse retards.”

                “No, I’m being serious. If the mom and dad are normal, can they always tell if the baby is retarded?”

                “Naw. They have no idea.”

                “Oh.”

                “So when did you get dropped on your head, retard?” Jacob asked this with a grin, although his grin quickly disappeared as he seemed to realize that this was a good way to get beat up.

                I thanked him and walked off. I usually favored the swing set for recess, but there were already a couple of people counting. If the three swings were occupied, you’d stand in front of the swing of your choice and count out loud until the current swinger had gone back and forth twenty times, at which point he or she was required to vacate the ride. In my current mood, if somebody started counting on me, I’d probably try to kick them in the face. Instead, I walked to the far corner of the fenced in playground and stood alone, thinking.

                Confess.

                No.

                It’s not fair to Laurie to let this go on.

                It’s not fair to me to tell what I did. It was an accident. I didn’t mean to drop her. Why did she need to squirm so much? I wasn’t hurting her.

                They can get her help.

                Yeah, and I’ll go to jail.

                You won’t go to jail. What kind of stupid idea is that? You really think Mom and Dad would send you to jail? It’s not even a crime.

                It’s not?

                Well, I’m not sure. If you did it on purpose it would be.

                What if they think I did it on purpose?

                They’d never think that. C’mon, get real.

                They might.

                In what universe?

                I dunno.

                Stop being so dumb. Tell them. They can help Laurie. Take her to a good doctor.

                They’ll be mad.

                They’ll be grateful.

                No.

                I couldn’t do it. What I’d done was too bad to confess. Especially six months later. This wasn’t like tracking mud in the house and blaming the dog, where the punishment of getting caught faded with time. I had to keep the secret. They’d never know it was me.

~ *  ~ *  ~

I tried the dead roach trick again, and Laurie ignored it. Then, after a very long search, I dug up another earthworm—a much longer one—and dangled it in front of her. She batted at it but didn’t try to eat it.

                Batting at it was normal. If somebody dangled an earthworm in front of me, I’d probably bat at it, too. Flicking it with your fingers would also be acceptable.

                I held it close to her mouth. She didn’t take the bait.

                “Open wide, Laurie,” I said, trying to use the same vocal inflection that Mom did when she was encouraging my sister to eat something good for her. “I’ve got a yummy yummy worm for you. Mmmmmmm…good! It’s squirmy and tasty!”

                I touched it to her lips. She turned her head away.

                Thank God.

                I squashed the worm in my fist, then washed off its gunk in the bathroom. Laurie wasn’t brain damaged. Her head was fine. I’d done all of this worrying for nothing.

~ * ~ * ~

Still, I couldn’t help but watch her closely.

                One time, her eyes crossed for no reason. Brain damage?

                She laughed at nothing. Brain damage?

                She babbled all the time. All babies babbled, but sometimes it just sounded weird. Brain damage?

                My stomach hurt a lot. There were times when I wished that Laurie had simply turned into a drooling mongoloid as soon as I dropped her. At least it would end the constant worrying. Seeing my sister in a catatonic state would be miserable, unbearable, but could it possibly be worse than this constant stress?

                Less often, but sometimes, I wished that her head had just splattered on the floor.

                Of course, I could end the stress by confessing, but…no.

~ * ~ * ~

A couple of months after her first birthday, Laurie developed a cough and Mom took her to the doctor.

                “Is she okay?” I asked, as Mom walked in the front door.

                “She’s fine,” said Mom, setting Laurie in her playpen. “I just wanted to be sure is all. I love you guys too much to let anything happen to you.”

                “The cough isn’t because of anything in her brain, is it?” I asked.

                “Of course not. Why would you even ask something like that? It’s just a regular baby cough.”

                This seemed like a good time to ask something along the lines of “Mom, would you still love me if I did something really bad?” but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t risk getting sent away, to wherever it was that they sent horrible little boys.

                What if Laurie had to live in a cage?

                What if I had to live in a cage, for what I’d done to her?

                I couldn’t stop the tears. Mom kept asking what was wrong, but I just couldn’t tell her.’

~ * ~ * ~

“I need you to watch Laurie for a couple of minutes,” Mom said. “I’m going to vacuum out the car.”

                “Can I help you vacuum?” I asked, suddenly breaking into a cold sweat.

                “You can help by watching Laurie. You don’t have to do anything—just make sure she stays in her playpen.”

                “I can keep the cord from getting twisted.”

                “Sweetie, just keep an eye on your sister, okay? I’ll be right outside.”

                Okay, this was a good thing, right? It had to be. If Mom suspected what I’d done and there was any actual sign of Laurie being brain damaged, she’d never leave me alone to watch her again.

                Of course not. That would be insane.

                Unless Mom was going to spy on me…

                No, no, no, no. Laurie was fine, Mom trusted me, the car needed vacuuming and there was nothing else to it. Basically, the only thing I had to do was shout, “Hey, Mom!” if Laurie managed to get out of her playpen—something she’d never been able to do, and a feat she was unlikely to accomplish in the next few minutes. My responsibilities were pretty much just ceremonial.

                I dragged a chair from the dining room table across the living room over to her playpen. As I head Mom turn on the vacuum in the driveway, I sat there and watched Laurie sleep for the full fifteen minutes.

~ * ~ * ~

Not too long after Laurie started pre-school, I heard Dad talking on the phone with her teacher about how Laurie was really smart for her age. That was weird. Had I actually helped her? Had I maybe pushed a smart part of her brain in front of a dumber part?

                No, probably not, and I certainly wasn’t going to test this theory by dropping her a second time…but I hadn’t hurt her. Thank God, I hadn’t hurt her.

~ * ~ * ~

I can’t say that I ever really forgot about it. I mean, she still occasionally did strange things, like wet the bed or spill things that didn’t seem like they should be spilled quite that easily, but overall she was an intelligent, cheerful, friendly little sister. Bratty something, yeah, but I liked that. It meant that she was normal.

                When my parents and I sat in the auditorium, watching her graduate from high school, I think I was even more proud than Mom and Dad were. I didn’t cry as much as Mom—nobody could—but I don’t think I’d ever been happier in my life.

~ * ~ * ~

Now that I’m telling you this, I guess it all had a happy ending. I didn’t remember it working out like that, but I can’t really think of anything bad that happened. I’m not even sure why I’m here.

                Oh, yeah. My own child.

                I know I checked on the baby this morning.

                The blood on my hand proves it.

                Don’t worry, I didn’t hurt the baby, God, no. It’s entirely my blood. You see, I have memory problems these days. I used to leave the house and be absolutely miserable all day, not remembering if I’d checked the baby, paranoid about what I might find when I got home. I tried the usual tricks, like tying a string around my finger, but that didn’t work because I could never quite convince myself that I hadn’t just forgotten to take off the string from the last time I checked.

                Writing notes to myself, calling and leaving messages on my voice main, taking photographs…none of it worked.

                Pain? That worked.

                It’s a wonderful idea, jabbing my palm with a knife. I do it hard enough to draw blood and hard enough to make sure it really hurts, but not hard enough to do any permanent damage. That is something I didn’t forget. Thirty or forty times a day I gasp and suddenly have this horrifying feeling that I’ve forgotten to peek into her room before I left, but all I have to do is look at the blood on my palm and see that, yes, I had indeed peeked into her room.

                After all, I wouldn’t stab myself unless I’d genuinely checked on the baby. Right?

                And I never forget to disinfect the wound in the evening and apply a bandage. Otherwise I’d get blood on my bedsheets, and I can’t risk that. Sure, the blood might was out, but then so would the scent of Yasmine’s perfume. It’s faded so much that I almost think it’s only in my imagination, but still, I can’t bear to lose it.

                I didn’t hurt the baby. I watched her perfectly.

                You know that Yasmine told me I didn’t need to watch the baby so closely, right? She said it was creepy to stare at her so much. Can you imagine that? Creepy to watch our own child?

                And she kept insisting that it was okay to hold her. It was not okay to hold her. When you dodge a bullet, you don’t jump back in front of the gun, right? If it were up to Yasmine, we’d be carrying her all over the house. I saw her holding the baby in the kitchen, where there isn’t even carpet. I swear I didn’t lose my temper. I just had to keep the baby safe.

                See, I had a moment where I got worried, just now, but the blood on my hand tells me that everything is okay. She’s sleeping soundly.

                Yasmine can’t watch her very well anymore, but that’s fine because I checked on her for both of us.

                The blood I know is mine. It’s how I know that everything’s okay. For a while I couldn’t remember if it was mine of Yasmine’s, but that was a while ago, and now I know it’s mine for sure.

                When you let me go, I should check on her again, just to be safe.

                What’s funny is that I feel like somebody dropped me.

 

 

Contact Schematic * #12

~ I found this in an old file with a bunch of other random things from places unknown, it isn’t erotic, however it is creepy as Hell. ~

Dear reader: The following is not fiction. It is an experiment. For those of you who cannot bare hallucinations and visions, do not attempt this. For those of you who wish to achieve contact, this is a non-chemically induced psychonautic experience.

               You need eight mirrors or decent size. Place these mirrors at your cardinal directions in a circle. The ritual is simple: seat yourself in the center of these mirrors, and have them face you so that you can see a reflection of yourself in each mirror by looking at the mirror directly ahead of you.

               A dark room and low light is shown to increase results. Though daytime tests have had positive feedback, most participants report low light of candles and the dark tend to increase deeper, uninterrupted experiences. Most of this is attributed to less distraction from outside interference.

               Once seated in the center of the mirrors (any seat will do, the point is to relax the body), slow your breathing, and stare directly ahead of you. Let your eyes focus and unfocus while staring directly into your own eyes.

~Keep your breathing slow and deep.

~Focus on nothing but your image.

~Do this, relaxing deeper still.

               Once you attain the Moment (a point where your conscious mind cannot tell which body it inhabits), you have several options. It is our opinion that the mirrors act as a device to confuse the conscious mind, or “soul.” In this delay/relay state, a gate of mental potential becomes unlocked. The biggest step, however, is controlling the next overwhelming rush of panic or excitement that follows the moment you become away that you have just left your body. Controlling your emotions is the only way to stabilize the experience in your favor.

               The goal is to achieve a waking dream like experience. Some may argue that the mind actually leaves the body, and others speculate that results show we are only moving deeper into our minds by eliciting responses that resemble testimonials from that of isolation tanks. Theories aside, this is an Open Eye Technique. We are not only achieving a ‘dream-like hypnagogic state,’ we are doing it without chemical or mechanical stimulation. Only by the use of proper mirrors, breathing, and relaxing techniques can we achieve these ‘Visionary’ experiences.

               Before attempting this experiment, let it be known that most participants had found the results to be very alarming, and suddenly found themselves so gripped by fright that they no longer attempt the test.

There have been general consensus statements, such as:

1.       Participants saw figures moving behind them in the mirror.

2.       Participants saw faces behind their own.

3.       Participants reported unexplained sounds, and even voices.

               These listed above are the common experiences. Some have reported very bizarre and inexplicable events. Other reports show similarities to that of classic alien abduction cases. The underlying reoccurrence, a feeling of “not being alone,” is the common theme and link between the cases. These same results have been produced through the use of high tech labs and equipment. We are offering you the “poor man’s” version. We do not recommend this experiment for the faint of heart, or those who are prone to panic attacks or mental illness. The experiment may be so unsettling that you may experience paranoia and/or night terrors for days and weeks afterward. In some extreme cases, affects may last for years, and you may need to seek psychological help. If you find yourself avoiding mirrors and your reflection, please seek professional help immediately and stop the Experiment at once.

If you would like to share your results and experience, you can send an email with an attached file to MCS1012@live.com. Your story will be catalogued and we may approach you to publish your testimony.

 

 

 

Burden of Guilt 2: My Brother’s Keeper * #011/JA

~If you’re someone who knows me, then you know why I included this, and more so why it resonates with me~

My twin brother was always something of a bastard and I hated him. We may have been born within minutes of each other, but that never meant we were anything alike. Where I was always rather shy and retreating, Jake was aggressive and capable of violence the likes of which I could never honestly consider.

                I suppose there may be some truth to the notion that violent upbringings beget violent adults, but that just wasn’t the case with Jake. He was raised in the same household as me, and he normally behaved himself when we were growing up, simply because of a healthy fear of my father’s hand across his posterior. My father was never abusive, but he was strict. If you wanted to sit down comfortably, you simply didn’t bother with being too stupid.

The same rule applies to being raised in an unprivileged home: We weren’t. My brother never lacked for money or for material possessions. We weren’t spoiled and our parents loved us openly and without hesitation. Neither of us was sexually abused, nor did we suffer humiliating mental tortures at the hands of the folks. We grew up in an upper-middle class household in a nice neighborhood, with caring, nurturing parents and virtually no skeletons in the closets that were worth noticing. All in all it was a wonderfully mundane way to be raised.

                I explain all of this simply to make my point clear: My brother was always something of a bastard, and he was that way by choice. He may have behaved himself at home, but in school his conduct grades were always poor, despite the fact that he managed to get excellent scholastic grades throughout his twelve years of public school. He not only got into fights, he normally started them. He was almost always the victor in the schoolyard arena, too.

Jake never picked on me, though I was certainly the sort of student he could have abused to no end. This had nothing to do with my father’s wrath, either. Jake knew good and damned well that I would never tell on him, because I was too scared of him. Too scared of what I knew he was capable of from the first moment I could reason.

                You see, Jake and I shared what he liked to call the “Corsican Brothers’ Syndrome.” While it wasn’t a constant thing, I often knew what he was thinking, and he had the same ability to peer into my thoughts. It wasn’t a conscious thing, it simply was. As far as Jake and I were concerned, there was some truth to the old rumors of a psychic connection between identical twins.

                This “gift” wasn’t anything either of us could control and it certainly wasn’t anything we ever wanted. It was simply there. Truth be known, I hated seeing into Jake’s psyche and I’m pretty damned sure he felt the same way.

                It might not have been so bad, but the connection between us seemed more active when one of us was experiencing something that caused us to have an extreme reaction. I often felt it when Jake decided to beat the shit out of someone, because his adrenaline levels were up. I felt his anger, I felt his need to cause physical violence, and I felt every blow delivered to his body by someone else. That’s the real reason Jake never decided to beat on me when we were growing up. It’s just not as satisfying stomping someone into the ground when you get to experience the pain yourself, a fact Jake learned firsthand the one time he decided to add me to his roster of victims.

                Despite the connection we had, Jake and I were never very close. His friends were normally the ones pounding mine into the ground. Jake forbade his cronies the pleasure of beating me black and blue, though strictly out of a sense of self-preservation. My few good friends weren’t as lucky.

                For several years I managed to keep Jake under control to a certain extent. If he did something overly bad I would simply tell my parents and suffer the consequences with him, or preferably I would tell the principal at school and let him suffer detention or suspension while I went on about my business.

                That worked for a while, right up until we got into Sixth Grade. Then Jake outsmarted me. One day, not long after I’d had him thrown into detention for roughing up my best friend, an unfortunate named Travis Whittleman, he made sure I never ratted him out again.

                I was at home, eating a tuna fish sandwich and watching Scooby Doo on the TV when it happened. One second Velma was looking for the glasses she’d lost on the ground a mere half foot from where she was searching in vain, and the next I was watching a very different show. I was watching Jake sneak up on Travis near his house a few blocks away. I felt the sun on my sweat-spotted neck, despite the fact that I was sitting in the air-conditioned living room at the house where I grew up. I tasted Marlboro Unfiltered through the mouthful of tuna I was chewing, and I saw Travis playing in the creek that ran its way from the north end of our neighborhood to the south, cutting the whole area in half.

                Travis was on his knees next to the water, his skinny butt stuck in the air as he used an old Folger’s can in an effort to scoop crawfish out of the creel. Alone or with me, Travis always loved to catch the little things and tease them with a stick for a while before throwing them back into the water. I felt Jake’s hatred of my best friend in that moment. I felt it like a living thing writing in the darkest corners of my mind. Even as I began to understand what was going through my brother’s mind, I tried to call out to Travis and successfully swallowed a lump of sandwich that simply wasn’t ready to do down yet. Jake felt my panic, and for a few seconds we experienced each other’s thoughts with a terrifying intensity made worse because they overlapped so completely. We both planned to put a serious hurt on Travis, and we both felt the lump of half-chewed tuna fish block our air passages.

                It only took about thirty seconds to clear my throat of the obstruction, but it felt like an hour or so. I coughed violently and gagged and dry-retched on the carpet. Jake fell to his knees with me, his face surely just as purple as mine, and his lungs feeling just as tortured. There was a difference: I didn’t have any witnesses. Jake had Travis.

                One of those simple facts that a lot of people overlook is that most identical twins aren’t really identical. Anyone who is close enough to them can normally tell them apart with ease. With Jake and me, the difference was about ten pounds of muscle on his side, and a radically different way of dressing. Jake looked like me on steroids and dressed in biker clothes. I looked like Jake if he was on a starvation diet and trying to impress a girl’s parents.

                Travis knew who he was looking at right away. He must have heard Jake’s gagging and coughing noises, because he swiveled his head on his long, gangly neck and peered through the mop of lifeless brown hair that always hung in his eyes, and looked at Jake as he could never look at me, with raw terror. The rusted Folger’s can fell from his hand and I saw the murky water spill across the unmown grass, tossing a crawfish onto the lawn with it. Travis had caught another one, but I didn’t figure he’d have time to play with it before Jake got to him.

                I was all too right. Jake moved with the easy grace of a predator and reached Travis before he was even all the way to his feet. He caught up with my best friend as he was rising from his kneeling position and slammed into him with all the strength he could muster. Travis lifted off the ground and sailed into the waters of the stream, landing badly on the rocky creek bed. He squealed loudly when he hit, and I saw the awkward way his left arm bent behind him.

                I tried to get out of the house then, but I never quite made it. I wasn’t so much blind as I was experiencing a serious case of disorientation. It’s damned hard to find the front door when your eyes are seeing something several blocks away. I bumped into just about everything, and flipped myself over the coffee table in an effort to get outside. Even with the pain of my barked shins to hinder him, Jake had no trouble getting to Travis. All I could do was crawl across the floor as I felt Jake’s hands grab hold of my best friend’s lank hair and force his head under the water. I felt Travis struggle violently as his lungs started demanding oxygen, and I felt those struggles cease when Jake stomped down hard on his broken arm. I heard the coughing that started when instinct overrode common sense and Travis tried to inhale the water that completely surrounded his face. I saw the look of panic that came over him when he realized he was drowning, and there was nothing I could do about it.

                Jake held him under for almost two minutes, long enough for Travis’s struggles to cease. Then he hauled him out of the creek and threw him on the shore. Jake did something then that he almost never did. He spoke through our link. “Should I kill him, John?” The voice was cold, filled with a hatred that I’d never experienced so intimately, a hatred of me. “Should I just let him die or should I do a little mouth to mouth?” I felt Jake’s fingers on Travis’s neck, felt the fluttery pulse that still beat in his seemingly lifeless form.

                I spoke back, aloud in the empty house, and with my mind. “Save him, Jake. Please! He’s my best friend!”

                “And if I let him live, will you promise not to tell on me anymore? Ever?”

                And in that moment I knew that my brother had learned a new way of controlling me. If I narced him out, one of my friends would pay the price. And I’d get to feel his satisfaction while he put paid to the bill. I’d get to feel his pleasure in knowing that what he did made me nauseous and angry at the same time.

                “Yes. I promise.” I said the words and I meant them. And in the saying, I suppose I damned myself. Since the Third Grade we’d spent one month of our Phys. Ed. Classes learning about CPR. Jake managed to remember enough to get Travis breathing again. Then he left him next to the creek and started walking home.

                When he got there I was waiting for him, and even though it hurt me with every blow, I took after him with a broom handle and beat him black and blue. I felt the pain, but he got the bruises for his trouble.

                Travis’s folks found him a few hours later, still unconscious by the side of the creek. He’s still alive today, but the damage Jake did to him was damned extensive. Oxygen deprivation left my best friend a vegetable. I understand he can manage to feed himself, but he still needs help to go to the bathroom, and he wears Depends to help cut back on accidents.

                I kept my word. I never told a soul about what Jake did until just now, when I decided to write all of this down. I was eleven when that happened. I’m forty-two now. Jake did a lot in the years that passed from then until three weeks ago when he died.

                I did my best to stay away from people, to avoid making close friends, but I must confess my best wasn’t all that good. Sooner or later, despite my efforts, someone always managed to work their way past my defenses and become someone I cared about. Throughout those years there was almost always someone Jake could have hurt to get to me.

                We both went to college, me to become a doctor, and him to major in business. I’m a general practitioner; he was a very well connected producer of porn films. Some were legitimate; some were the sort that you can’t buy in the open market of even the most liberal states. Jake got into snuff films and child pornography. He moved from our home in Connecticut to California, where he did a long, slow spiral into every form of depravity known to man.

                Along the way he got married three times and divorced three times. I met a woman I fell deeply in love with and married who is still with me and manages to love me as much as I love her.

                Marrying her was harder to do than you might imagine. As I said before, our mental connection made itself known most often when we’re excited. I was the unwilling guest at all three of Jake’s honeymoons, and he was the unwelcome addition to my own. Despite his relocation to the West Coast, the connection between our minds remained strong. I had to share all of the most intimate moments of my entire life with a man I hated, and he had to do the same. I knew when he lost his virginity at fifteen, and he knew when I lost mine at the age of twenty. I experienced his excitement when he robbed a convenience store for the money to start his little porn company, and suffered several bad trips with him when he decided to experiment with drugs. I spent a few exhausting weeks recovering as best I could from his time in jail. That time was made worse by his mouth, and by the fact that he got on the wrong end of at least two rapes. On those occasions I called in sick to work, or simply told my wife I had a migraine, one of my more common excuses for the things my brother put me through.

                Jake only got worse as he got older. He never quite made it to the point of being a serial killer, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had. I know for a fact that he raped several women in the course of his film career, if you can call what he put on tape working in the movie industry. I know that he worked on at least two snuff films, and he was starting to get into the foulest things imaginable with children before he died.

                And I kept my mouth shut about all of it. I was afraid to tell anyone about what he did, because I have a wife I love very dearly, and I have friends who could have been made to suffer. I know those reasons sound weak, but as long as it was someone I didn’t know, someone clear across the country, I could pretend it wasn’t real. If I tried really hard, I could make myself believe it was all just a bad dream.

                I never said a word to anyone, at least not until he started on the children. That was just too much for me to bear. I could have called the police, but as I said before, the connection between us is sporadic. I saw the actual events, experienced them in every grisly detail, but I couldn’t have guaranteed where they occurred, or provided even one iota of evidence beyond the sensations I had forced upon me.

                Instead I did the sort of thing Jake himself might have done. I paid someone to kill my brother. I tool five thousand dollars from my savings account, called on a slightly shady patient of mine whom I felt I could trust, and arranged for my brother’s execution.

                If it hadn’t been for the children, I wouldn’t have dared. I think Jake knew that about me, but I don’t think he knew how seriously I’d react to the children. I have little ones of my own, and the thought of anyone doing to them what that sick bastard did to his victims for a profit was enough to send me over the edge. Right at the very end, I think Jake knew. I think he at least suspected, because I could feel his fear as surely as every other emotion and sensation he’d ever inadvertently sent my way.

                I made sure his death would be quick and clean. I made sure he wouldn’t see it coming. I was assured he would die without knowledge of the fact that he had been targeted. It didn’t work out the way it was supposed to, not at all. Whoever it was who pulled the trigger must have been sloppy. What should have hit him in the back of the head blew out his right shoulder first. It must have been around midnight where he was in Los Angeles, because I remember seeing the glowing red numbers on the alarm clock that stated it was 3:06 AM when it happened. I remember seeing through his eyes as he fell down the concrete stairs leading to his back yard from the porch of his home in Burbank. I can still clearly recall the impact of his knees and back across all fifteen steps.

                I felt the blood run down his arms as he tried to stand, the pain in his chest from what had to be at least three broken ribs, and I heard the screams of the people at his house with him, celebrating in the sort of ways my brother liked best.

                Then I felt the second bullet tear through his chest, burning a hole from his right armpit all the way down to his left hip. I can remember those sensations better than I can remember my wife’s panicked voice or her hands on my back and arm. I remember wondering if I would die with him when he passed from this world. That too was one of the things that stopped me from reporting my brother’s crimes. Whatever he felt under duress I felt too, and I couldn’t help but wonder if I would just keel over and die when his time came.

                I heard my brother call out to me one last time as realization came to him. I felt that sickening doubling of my soul as he felt my mind and my thoughts along with his own. I heard him speak with throat and mind alike as he called out to me: “John! What the hell have you done to me?” And then there was silence. Silence, and the worst headache I’ve ever experienced. I know first-hand what it feels like to have your head crack open and your brains explode from their resting-place. I saw the white, gray, pink mass of chewed brain hit the grass below him as the bullet tore through his skull, and I felt the sudden cessation of his life.

                I woke up a few minutes later, with my wife looking worriedly at me while a whole crowd of paramedics worked on my body. Apparently the stress of what I felt caused a heart attack. No permanent damage done, just a very sudden shock and my heart forgetting how to beat for a few minutes.

                Lucky me.

                I didn’t attend my brother’s funeral, nor did my parents who, like me, had long since decided the best way to handle Jake was to pretend he didn’t exist. He was mourned by a few, perhaps, but not by me or any other member of his family.

                As far as I was concerned, I was free of a terrible burden. For the first time in my life I knew that whatever sensations or thoughts I had, they were strictly my own. That was my first taste of what Heaven must surely feel like.

                So naturally, I suppose I should have expected an equal share of Hell. Just before I sat down to write this I was taking a shower. I’ve always preferred the water lukewarm. As I was rinsing the shampoo out of my hair, I felt a wave of intense heat, and smelled a blast of sulfur strong enough to make me gag. For just the briefest of seconds, I felt a horrible pain across my back and then across my midsection. The pain was enough to force my eyes open. I looked to where the blue tile of the shower’s wall meets the Shower Massage, and saw a thing staring back at me, laughing at my outstretched hands and the flames that washed across them from the searing pool of lava that engulfed me to my genitals. I heard Jake’s thoughts as clearly as I did the day he almost killed Travis Whittleman. He said, “You’ll burn with me, John. And that makes it all worthwhile.”

                The next instant all was well, and the only pain came from the Head & Shoulders shampoo that washed into my left eye. I stood under the stream of water until all the heat was gone and my body was shivering from the cold instead of from fear. I pray that I’m wrong, but I fear the mental link I have with my brother is still there.

                Since I began this little journal, I’ve had three more mercifully brief flashes out his existence in whatever ring of Hell he’s now calling home. I wonder if Dante had a twin brother to guide him along the way with his writings. So far what I’ve experienced almost seems to fit with what the man wrote so long ago.

                Jake is dead, and apparently burning in Hell for his sins. I am alive, and still live in Connecticut. But four times in the last few hours I’ve had reason to think I was with my brother again, feeling what he feels, seeing what he sees, and experiencing his every thought with him.

                I thought my brother’s death would free me, but if those brief flashes of connection to his twisted psyche were real than I have granted myself the worst fate I can imagine.

                I am alive and well, and living in Hell.

 

Dark Places Underground * #010/WG

~This isn’t as gory or graphic as the rest, but its no less disturbing. Perhaps more so because of that subtly.

He awoke with the feeling.

                 His eyes were still closed, but he came awake with the usual suddenness.

                Sounds squeezed into his head. Someone shouting in the hallway. A door slamming. Footsteps past his door and down the refuse-strewn stairs.

               None of it mattered. Not with the Feeling rapidly traversing through his body.

               The itch in his hands burned with the intensity of a propane torch, as if the blue flame were licking his skin and charring it in the most delicate way possible. He had come to both dread and savor this feeling, in the way of most things in his life.

               The old bastard’s cheap alarm clock on his nightstand kept time with a loud, inelegant clacking. Sometimes he thought the sound of it rattled in his brain, and at other times it was so far away as to be nearly muffled by his own breathing.

               He catalogued each tiny nuance of the Feeling carefully, keeping track of any new ones. There had been no new nuances since his time in Cincinnati, which probably meant he was due.

               The itch in his hands was driving him insane and, by this point, his erection was rock-hard and straining at the single sheet covering him. Sweat broke out on his forehead and dribbled sideways down his face, into the pillow. He handled himself, gently at first, then more roughly, the itch driving him on until he could wait no longer.

               He opened his eyes and turned his head far enough to look at the Goodwill chest of drawers near the bed. On its scarred top sat the Case. Old fashioned, covered with a fading flower print. Safe. Exactly the way it was on the day he had taken possession. He flashed back, for a second, on that first blush of ownership—how he had caressed and fondled the Case long into the night, driving himself beyond any hope of return, and how he had finally accepted what the Case meant to him, and the perfection of the way in which he had gained ownership. As he thought about that day, he felt himself surrendering to the memory fully and without restraint. He held himself as he stared at the Case, mentally preparing for the next part of his ritual.

               Slowly, without effort, Martin sat up in the bed and let the sheet slip off his loins. He felt slick there, and his hand was warm and comforting. Without taking his eyes off the Case, he slid out of bed and approached the bureau. Reaching out, he put his hand on the Case, fingering the cylinders inside through the thinning fabric, a quiver running through his belly—and lower.

               His eyes roved upward and met those of Martin in the mirror. They were the same, Martin and he, but only to a point. Martin knew that the other Martin pushed him farther than he wished to go, that the other Martin sometimes dictated his behavior. But he also knew that he often liked the direction the other Martin pushed him.

               He smiled at the image of Martin.

               It had served him well in the Institute, his skill at play acting. He had played the Martin-in-the-mirror game with them until they believed without reservation in his belief—that a version of himself which resided only in mirrors could force him to act in ways generally not associated with his own behavior patterns. In that way, many of Martin’s more outrageous actions could be written off as the influence of Martin-in-the-mirror. He had found himself so adept at acting out this delusion that, after a dozen years, he sometimes wondered whether it was acting or whether it had always been true, or whether he had made it come true.

               What is this? What have you done, Martin? Oh, my God, you’ve soiled your sheets again! I can’t believe this. I’m going to tell Dr. Berthold! I just can’t trust you to keep yourself clean, can I?

               I’m sorry, Miss Dievers, Martin whimpered. I had to go, but he wouldn’t let me! He told me I had to just do it here or burst!

               The teenager pointed at the bureau mirror, and the nurse found herself looking into it as if there was a chance she would see Martin’s tormentor somewhere inside, but all she saw was her own nose and mouth wrinkled at the smell which came from the boy’s bed and which had by now permeated the whole room and her clothes and ruined her dinner, which sat half eaten at her station (just waiting for her to return so she could toss it into the wastebasket—like most of her meals when she was assigned to this floor, she suddenly realized). She rolled her eyes at her own image and got to work, gathering up the bedclothes and fussing the boy until he was heading for the bathroom down the hall. She would check on him in a minute, make sure he was scrubbing off the half-dried patches of his own waste. Then she would throw out the now-unappetizing remains of her meal and write up a Martin-in-the-mirror report for Berthold to go over in the morning, the day’s fifth. She wondered, briefly, just how real this imagined Martin was to the young man who claimed he was forced to do things by this image only he could see. Well, that was Berthold’s problem. His territory, his patient, his problem. She just wished she could have been transferred out of the chronic wing, so she could at least have some respite from the loonies.

               After she had remade his bed and disposed of the ruined sheets, she checked on him as he stood in the trickling shower. She stepped back, startled, when she saw him handling his engorged penis, the whole while carrying on a conversation with no one—there was no one in the communal shower. Wait, no, that was untrue. She stood half-in and half-out, watching Martin talking to his own image in the full-length mirror bolted to the wall that faced into the shower room. Martin wasn’t standing in the spray, because then he couldn’t have seen himself in the mirror, but he was naked and fully engaged in self-pleasure. Despite herself and her long experience, she felt a blush creeping up her features.

               Yeah, I know Dievers has beautiful lips, Martin was saying to the mirror, and I really like when her lipstick is so dark and wet, and almost purple. But, I don’t think she’s interested in me at all, I’m just another weirdo. I know she’s not that old! Yeah, and I know she’d probably love to take my thing in her mouth and get her lipstick all over it, but I’m just not gonna ask her, okay? I don’t care how much you beg me, I’m not gonna ask her. You come out of that mirror and ask her yourself, you want it that bad!

               Nurse Dievers had put a hand to her mouth in shock and bewilderment, and now she looked at her fingers and saw the streak of mauve on her skin. That was it, no more lipstick while on duty! And this would have to be another Martin-in-the-mirror report, and she would ask Berthold for a new assignment again.

               In the shower room, the nineteen year old Martin was caressing himself to orgasm, looking straight into his own image in the mirror and grunting with animal satisfaction.

               Was there any way to change this boy’s behavior, she wondered, slowly backing out of the steaming room.

               She didn’t see the smiling Martin turn his head toward the sound of the door clicking softly closed.

               Now he smiled at the thought of the memory. He never knew how she had felt as she spied on him that night, but she had stopped wearing lipstick and, three weeks later, had left her job for good. Martin had merely filled in the gaps in his knowledge and formed a fully-rounded memory of the event. He enjoyed reliving that half-hour from her point of view, but he did feel regret that he was never able to determine whether she would have placed her lips on him if given the opportunity.

               Martin unzipped the make-up-case—

               (his mother’s make-up Case; the Case)

               —and rummaged through the canisters, knowing that he would recognize the one he needed now as soon as he saw it.

               It was a shade called Berry Mauve, and it came in a white container. He separated it from the other white canisters and set the Case aside, then he uncapped it and slowly, tantalizingly twisted the bottom.

                He felt a delicious shiver stir his genitals as the rounded tip came into view. A tiny purple phallus growing in length until his trembling hand conveyed it to his lips and he began to draw, as carefully as he had learned (no, had been taught), filling in his lips until he pursed and—for a second—saw Nurse Dievers in the mirror. Then it was just Martin again, or Martin-in-the-mirror.

               He inhaled deeply, enjoying the chemical cosmetic smell of the lipstick under his nostrils. Slowly, he wiped a finger across his upper lip and smeared the mauve coloring onto his chin. With a shudder, Martin climaxed. He had not touched himself further. As always, there was no need.

               Nurse Dievers had missed out on this action, but she would live on in Martin’s memory. And in his memory she always came back for more.

                Martin sat on his bed and felt the need wash from his body. And the itch in his hands had stopped, for now. If the pattern held up, he would not feel the itch for another day or so. In the meantime, he could concentrate on other matters. 

                                                ~ * ~ * ~

The restaurant: one of those chain shops that attempt to capture true diner status without pedigree. Chrome and formica, yes, but no real jukebox, for instance. Greasy breakfasts and specials, but all done exactly alike, with no variation between first, second, and third shift cooks thanks to corporate schooling. Uncomfortable booths encourage quick dining and even quicker exits. A large percentage of foods come prepped from the freezer. Tired waitresses dish up stale donuts and rolls from fly-protected yet fly-flecked serving plates. Strung out customers regularly clash with the drunks, and the semi-homeless nurse endless cups of black coffee, gnarled hands wrapped around chipped mugs.

               Martin Stewart eyes his late-night company warily. This is no place for a writer. He grins. Even here, the charade has brought him better than average service, as both aging and barely pubescent waitresses hope to somehow influence, or at least witness, one man’s creative process. It has some kind of sitcom flair, does Martin’s little act, and he’s pleased with it. Even if there is no need for it here, it’s becoming comforting in its routine. Martin sips at his scalding coffee and eyes the remains of his hamburger. This isn’t true food, not enough to sustain him mentally and physically in the quest on whose path he has set himself, but it will have to do.

                Martin turns and surveys the scene in the wall mirror, which runs the length of the room. The tired, the drunk, the strung out. Working class. Underclass. No class. It’s pathetic. He is clearly above such a place, if only because of his intelligence. His presence here is a fluke, an accident of nature, a strange cosmic coincidence. There is no one else here he can relate to, nor anyone he wants to relate to. Or talk to. Be with.

               Martin smiles, remembering why he is here. What he is slowly maneuvering into place. The enormity of his knowledge both eats at him and amuses him, and he enjoys both feelings.

               He is not surprised to see her come in and out of the thin drizzle begun shortly after his arrival.

               She is almost attractive enough to be straight, a woman waiting for her boyfriend or fiancé. Dark blonde. Black leather skirt. White blouse under a thin brown leather jacket. Is that a fashion faux pas, wearing too different shades of leather? Martin can only wonder as she slides into the booth next in line to his, in the seat facing him. He is granted special privileges because of his notebooks and large tips, he knows, but she seems undaunted by the ubiquitous signs announcing: TWO OR MORE CUSTOMERS PER BOOTH. She makes a gesture at the elder waitress and is brought coffee with hardly a look to spare.

                 So, now Martin is interested. A hooker awaiting a customer? Taking a break? Going on strike? He lets his eyes roam over her features boldly. This is, after all, his style. And one must live up to one’s style. The hair seems natural—no bottles for her. Nose, long and straight. Nose job perhaps, he thinks, having seen several of those up close before. Eyes set wide, clear, and intelligent. Cold, maybe. Calculating. In fact, they have already picked him out across the ten feet that separate their two booths, and are even then boldly measuring him while he measures her. Nice cheekbones. Simple earrings, though three adorn one ear while only one hands from the other. Chin juts just a little, witch-like, but not enough to cause a problem. Lips, well, her lips are wide and full—and of course are the feature at which he most wants to stare. So he does, and he is sure she smiles slightly as she digs into her tiny purse and wrestles out a compact. She pretends to check her makeup while eyeing him over the little mirror, and Martin smiles at her attempt to seem nonchalant. Just a break, then, after all. She takes a silver canister from the purse and holds it up in front of her face, staring at it as she slowly twists it and raises the lipstick from it recessed compartment. She holds it there for a few moments, bobbing it in front of her lips, the corners of which are slightly curled in obvious enjoyment.

               Martin squirms in his seat. He feels the mug almost slip from his fingers and lowers it to the table carefully, never taking his eyes off her and her ballet.

               Fully aware of his gaze, she slowly lets the lush mauve tip of the lipstick rest against her lower lip before dragging it left, then right, from side to side. She takes the lipstick from her lower lip, lets it hover momentarily, then repeats the process on her upper lip, taking an impossibly long time and staring right at him. She purses her mauve lips, checking her image in the mirror but positioning the compact so he can see, sharing, then slowly inserting the tip of the lipstick between them, withdrawing it ever so slowly. In and out. She smiles and sets the lipstick down.

               Martin feels the pen bend in his hand. A sheen of sweat cools his forehead, and a vague sense—no, more than a sense—of hatred flows like liquid mercury through his veins.

               Does it ever end?

               His mind screams incoherently as his hand drops the pen and the images come unbidden, faster than he could have imagined, faster than he could begin to assimilate. Not that he wants to assimilate, but his head swells with the balloon of knowledge, of dread, of hate, of love, and then he is nine again, and his father is rummaging in the purse and Martin is young, but he knows that what’s coming is going to be very bad.

               Martin’s eyes close momentarily and he is no longer here, but there.

               If you love me, his daddy is saying, if you love me…

               Thing was, Martin had loved his daddy. A whimper escapes his lips. He had loved his daddy a lot.

               His daddy had begged him to keep their love a secret, because mommy and Carrie would get jealous if they knew, and even though Martin is bursting with the joy of how much his daddy loves him, he keeps quiet. Mommy has recently developed a habit of staring at daddy while he faces a different direction, engaged in some daddy-like behavior. Mommy doesn’t smile as much these days as she did just a year ago, and Martin can see that daddy is right. She is jealous of the time the two of them spend together, the same time she is spending with Carrie these days. Carrie, who’s four years older and always moping around the house. Carrie, who never talks and who gazes at everyone through hooded eyes. Martin has noticed these things, and they help explain why daddy loves him all the more now.

               The first time daddy showed martin how much he loved him was a day mommy had taken Carrie to some appointment, to see someone who was supposed to help Carrie stop moping. So it was just Martin and his daddy in the big old house, and daddy said, let’s play a game. Martin nodded quickly, before daddy could change his mind. Daddy smiled. For this game, we have to play in our underwear. Martin had never heard of a game like that, but he was more than happy to learn a new game. By the time mommy and his stupid sister came home, Martin had learned the game real well, but he remembered not to say anything. It was strange, what daddy had called a game was something he had heard some kids talking about, and they talked about it as if were something only adults could do. Martin decided he would keep playing as long as his daddy wanted to, but he would pay attention to what his friends said, too.

               At this point in the memory, Martin shudders. He watches the blonde woman across from him powder her cheeks lightly, patting them with the round applicator from her compact. The silver lipstick canister stands on the chipped formica table in front of her, and he is sure she sees him staring at her and at the canister. Beads of sweat collect at the sides of his forehead and trickle slowly down his cheek, causing a cool itch that he ignores.

               Martin played the underwear game with his daddy for almost a year, until daddy didn’t seem to enjoy it any more. Martin was still enjoying it, he thought, because he was spending special time with his daddy that no one knew about, and mommy and daddy didn’t seem to ever play their games anymore. But daddy was getting bored. Until one day he rummages through mommy’s purse while she is off somewhere with Carrie, finding the sliver lipstick canister and a tiny bag of other jars and things that mommy wears to make herself pretty. Daddy’s eyes light up—Martin shivers at the clarity of the memory—as he removes the items from the purse one by one, standing them up on the kitchen table. He twists the top off the canister and the purple tip emerges from hiding, then he looks at Martin. I have a new way to play our game, he says, one hand holding the lipstick. Do you want to see? But Martin backs up a step. He isn’t sure why, but he feels suddenly uneasy about the game and what daddy wants him to do. It’s as if a line has been crossed. Martin always liked playing the game with daddy, because it was Martin’s time and no one else’s—because he felt special in sharing the secret. But suddenly, with the things from mommy’s purse between them, Martin sees that daddy really wants mommy, and if she isn’t there then Martin will do just fine, but he has to look like mommy. And something in his spirit rebels. Suddenly he has run out of the kitchen screaming and crying and howling so loudly that daddy is after him with lightning in his eyes and an upraised hand, and then daddy catches him and the hand comes down and Martin cries, but there is nothing he can do except play the game daddy’s way.

               In the kitchen again, daddy holds his head with one meaty hand and carefully fills in Martin’s lips with the other, the silvery canister flashing in the light over the sink. The tip is purple and sweet smelling, and it makes his lips sticky—he can tell that daddy is smoothing on more than mommy every would, but that doesn’t seem to bother daddy. His breath comes in short, quick gusts, as if he’s been running, and Martin can smell the stuff his parents call Scotch. When daddy is done, they play a new version of the game—messy, like finger-painting.

               And from that moment on Martin decides he hates daddy, and mommy too.

               First there were mommy’s things from her purse, and then the things daddy brings home and hides in his tool chest. Things he hides from mommy.

               Martin wipes at the drying sweat trails on his face, drinks from his cold mug, and pretends to write in his notebook. He turns to wave at Linda, but she is already crossing toward him with a coffee pot in one hand.

               “Top that off for you?”

               He nods. “Thanks.” Out of the corner of his eye he watches the blonde react to Linda, who seems to be thrusting her breasts at him. Now, is that really the case, Martin wonders, or is he just filling in the empty spaces? He stares at Linda’s pierced nostril for a second, at her pink lips, at her smile—the smile reserved for the restaurant’s very own writer. He nods again, as Linda hovers as if about to ask him something, or as if waiting for him to say something—that’s it, waiting for him to make some sort of move—then he takes his mug and crosses over and stands next to the blonde.

               “Mind if I sit?” he asks. She shrugs, and Martin slides in across from her, his hand wrapped around the now-hot mug. Vaguely aware of Linda’s shape in the background, staring at him disapprovingly, maybe disappointedly, and he shrugs his own shoulders microscopically. Such is life, after all, with winners and losers. “Cold night, what with this rain,” he says.

               “Yeah,” the blonde answers. She watches him drink some coffee, then sips at her own mug.

               Martin eyes the violet half-circle she leaves on the rim. He smiles. “Got anything doing tonight?” He’s taking a chance, he knows. But he is curious to expand his arsenal of knowledge, he tells himself as he waits for her response, and plainly curious to see what she will do.

               She smiles crookedly. “Nah, I’m pretty well free for the rest of the night. So to speak.”

               Martin feels his lip curl up into another smile. He narrows his eyes slightly, watches her lips from slitted eyelids. “Care for some company?”

               Her fingers thump the table. A nonchalance gesture. “I could be persuaded.”

               “Can we get out of this rain pretty fast?”

               “I’m just around the corner,” she says. She scoops her things back into her tiny purse. Martin watches the lipstick container disappear. “Care for—a nightcap?”

               He nods. She is already shrugging into her thin leather coat and dropping a dollar on the table.

               Martin reaches into his pocket, draws out some crumpled bills and selects a five, drops it onto his own table, then picks up his notebook and follows the blonde to the door.

               Linda’s eyes bore into his back. He can feel her displeasure.

               Winners and losers, he thinks, as he holds the door for the woman and follows her out into the cold drizzle.

               Her place really is just around the corner, and they walk in silence until reaching her front door. A sort of pseudo brownstone, recently redone to play up its antique wrought-iron railings. She lets him into one of the ground floor apartments, six steps up, and takes his coat.

               “Uh, sorry about the mess.” She gestures towards some clutter on the table, clothes strewn on the tiny sofa.

               “It’s okay,” Martin says. He looks at her face, noting how her own lighting makes her lines softer—her chin isn’t as pronounced, for instance, as it was under the fluorescents—and how her hair seems even more golden. He stares at the dark gash of her lips, feeling himself respond to the must she now exudes. Then he fumbles with his wallet and she laughs and pushes his hand aside and reaches for his belt.

               His trousers down, she gently places her lips around the head of his penis, which is outlined under his briefs. He holds her head as she licks him through the thin cotton, her lips leaving wide violet streaks on the fabric, her eyes fastened on his the whole time. He squirms at the warmth and cold, thinks he will burst from the cloth. She starts to reach into his waistband, but he stops her.

               “What’s wrong?” She stares up at him, surprised.

               Martin remembers to breathe. “More lipstick,” he whispers, hoarse. “You need more lipstick.”

               She holds the stare just a few moments longer, then shrugs once—a twitch. She drags her purse within reach, finds the canister. As Martin watches, enraptured, she repeats her slow replenishment of the dark lipstick, first her fleshy lower lip and then her upper lip, her eyes still boring into his.

               “Like this?”

               He nods. “More.”

               She presses over each lip again, the gash of her mouth black in the near-dark. Martin can tell that she is an expert—she doesn’t stray from the outside edges of her lips at all. But the cosmetic itself is now a thick layer on both lips, and Martin feels the tip of his penis moistening the fabric of his briefs.

               Her lips encircle him again, smearing on the white cotton, and her tongue sneaks into attack mode. A minute later, she pauses and applies more lipstick before gobbling more of him.

               Martin can’t hold on. He feels himself shooting into the fabric and through it, into her mouth, where her tongue laps his filtered thick liquid. Martin’s hands press her ears, holding her in place as she cleans him without once touching his bare skin. She looks up, smiling, her teeth shiny amidst the smeared skin around her lips.

               Martin nearly collapses on top of her. In a haze, he feels her cool fingers removing his soiled underpants and then she is naked and he is being used, but he barely notices because in his mind there is nothing but his penis and the lips and the lipstick.

               Later, she holds the silver canister out to him and he draws carefully around her lips as if worried that someone will take his coloring book away if he strays. Her lips massage him and she drinks from him as if he were a faucet, suspending from her lips, until he sinks down and tastes himself on her, thick and aromatic lipstick smearing both their lips.

               Memories of daddy’s game slip away, while others still eat at the sides of his consciousness. She laughs and wipes his face, and for a while he is just Martin, not Martin-in-the-mirror, not a writer in a restaurant, or someone who played with his daddy and liked it.

               Later, while she sleeps and he could easily kill her with one well-placed hand, he finds himself looking at her with a strange fondness.

               He walks into the night, where the drizzle has turned to a downpour rustling through the trees. The diner is open and he orders coffee from a graveyard shift waitress he has never seen.

               She has nice lips, he thinks as she brings his mug, but she isn’t playing them up as well as she could.

               A sense of power surges through him.

               He reaches into his pocket and feels the two metal canisters clink together. His fingers gently trace their outlines and he shivers with joy.

               One is the blonde’s mauve lipstick. The other is a silver jacketed .44 Magnum cartridge.

                                             ~ * ~ * ~

With a snort, Martin returned to the bureau and shakily refreshed his lipstick, making sure it was layered on heavily—like a common whore, his father would say, suck my dick like a whore—and then bending over to retrieve the duffel bag from near the bed. He reached in and took out the .44, caressing its cold metal with infinite tenderness.

               Then, while staring at himself in the mirror, he slowly inserted the muzzle between his painted lips. That was Martin-in-the-mirror, and what happed to him had nothing at all to do with what happened to Martin.

               He wondered just how much pressure it would take, as his index finger caressed the trigger.

               Afterwards, he threw up until he thought his guts might well dislodge and spew out in great gouts of blood. But, as always, they didn’t.


                                                    ~ * ~ *  ~

               The mall was perfectly sterile and Martin enjoyed the thought of brining color to its drab walls and dirty tile floors.

               “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

               She hesitated. “I don’t know. It’s a little too—“

               “Dangerous?” Martin supplied. “Look, I’m paying, right?”

               “Yeah, I know.”

               “This is just part of the thrill, you see. You’ll earn your money and have a little fun just a few feet away from all this wholesome family stuff. It can’t be any worse than some flophouse somewhere.”

               “Well, yeah,” she said, licking her lips.

               Martin liked that—had liked that about her from the moment he’d spotted her at the bar. He was getting better at it.

               “Yeah,” she continued after making her lips glossy again, “it could be worse ‘cause they arrest people who do stuff like this here. They don’t bother with the flophouses.”

               He took her arm. “I’ll double your price.”

               “Well…”

               He led her to the escalator and she let him. Martin had won, as he knew he would. He was God. He could manipulate anyone into anything. His voice was silk. His personality was strong and forceful, but likable enough to smooth over people’s doubts. And what doubts could this hooker have, anyway? What thoughts crossed such a mind, a mind and psyche suited only to giving pleasure and receiving payment? What doubts could someone like her exhibit, once having chosen such a career path? Martin liked analyzing things, and this girl on his arm was both an enigma and an open book to him—he knew what drove her, and what would make her happy. He knew what he could tell her, and what she would say. He knew that nothing he requested would be out of bounds, now that he had forced his will on her once. The giving in had umempowered her—the payment, a double payment, was all she saw, all she needed. She was clay and he the potter. He felt a tingle where his skin touched hers.

               He looked at her face as they rode up toward the mall’s upper level, where fast food eateries lined up like carnival booths. She was pretty, in a blank sort of way, but not as pretty as the woman from the diner. Her hair was blonde, but dark roots gave her away. Eyes a clear blue, but vacant—lost, distant. Her nose might have been perfect with the exception of one small ridge, her weakest feature. A strong chin and high cheekbones perfectly set off her best, though. Her lips were ablaze in a shiny pink cream that shimmered under the mall’s fluorescent lighting mix. Martin watched men on the down escalator beside them react to her with open lust. He smiled at them. See what I have that you don’t? It was part of the game. And he knew that they were watching her so intently that not one would remember his features. In fact, had he really been with her? Dredging their weakened memories would bring up the fact that he was standing one or two steps below her on the moving staircase, not exactly with her. Confused, they’d cut him out of the picture completely.

               Martin knew he was right. He was always right.

               They reached the top floor and she looked to him for guidance. But he knew where he was going, and he led her right to where the photo booth was tucked in a corner, near two rows of tables and interspersed potted figs and swing-topped refuse pails. A half-dozen people sat alone at tables, eating their fast food quickly—so much shopping to do. One small table was overwhelmed by a family, whose various children ran to and fro amidst a tangle of parental hands and feet, packages and bags piled high on the table.

               As he stepped past these people with the blonde woman not quite on his arm, he noticed several heads turn and glance at them—two men with open lust, one woman in apparent disgust at his companion’s cleavage, and several of the children with open, through fleeting, curiosity. Then they were past the tangle of tables and entering the tiny booth, and Martin was drawing the black plastic curtain on both sides.

               She sat on the stool facing the camera eye and the mirror, and Martin stood beside her. He knew their feet were visible beneath the edge of the curtain, but he didn’t mind—it made the game more fun. Couples took lovey-dovey photographs all the time.

               He slid the paper bills into the slot, waited for the light to signal the camera was set, then turned to his companion. This was always the most exciting part—he wanted to enjoy it.

               “Would you please refresh your lipstick?” He was hoarse with desire.

               The blonde knew what he wanted. It wasn’t a typical fetish, but not altogether unknown. Anyway, there was a reason she played up her lips—they were perfect, full, wide, and as sensuous as any famous model’s. A gold canister appeared and slowly tantalized him with its pink tip, which she applied directly to her lower lip, stroking from the middle outward in one direction, then from the middle outward in the other, spreading the color on thickly. Her eyes locked his as she repeated the process with her upper lip, watching Martin’s obvious pleasure as she pouted for him.

               When he unzipped his fly, she was ready. Her velvety lips stretched over his erection and she went to work, visions of double pay perhaps dancing in her head. Martin flicked the button and heard the camera start to whirr. Vaguely he could hear the chatter of children, the steps of an adult considering a choice of tables, the sound of plastic tableware hitting the inside of a refuse pail, someone coughing uncontrollably. Ice clinking in a plastic cup. The camera took one, two, three shots and then he was sputtering between and onto her smeared lips and chin and the camera was clicking one last time, a perfectly timed  encounter, and she was licking him clean and he zipped up just as a mall cop stuck his head inside the booth.

               “Everything all right in here?”

               Martin faced him and hid her from the cop with his body. He could sense her hand busily wiping the evidence from around her mouth.

               “Couldn’t be better, officer,” Martin smiled. “Just making some pictures for the folks back home.”

               The cop, thirties and bull-necked, flabby in the middle but not much, had hardened and knowing eyes with which he tried to look around Martin at the woman. “You all right, miss?”

               “Yes, officer,” she said from behind Martin. She moved Martin aside slightly and looked at the cop, batting her eyelashes. Martin glanced down at her. She looked like a girl next door now, with barely a smudge left on her cheek and no lipstick on her mouth. He could see a paper hanky balled up in her fist. “Everything’s fine.”

               “Wanna see the pictures?” Martin asked, smiling more widely now, pushing the envelope of margin he had, basking in the knowledge that he could do no wrong, pushing fate beyond where most would dare. He heard the woman gasp slightly at his gall in cheating capture so cavalierly.

               “Nah,” said the cop. “Just wanted to make sure you’re okay in there.” His head retreated, and Martin followed to retrieve the strip of pictures from the little tray on the outside of the booth, where it had curled up offering a hint of pink and white to anyone who bothered to look closely.

               Martin watched the cop’s back as he stalked past the diners and the noisy family. At least two of those people are aware of what went on here, Martin thought. He smiled at them, then ducked back into the booth, where she was once again applying lipstick. She looked up at him. The question was plain—when do I get paid?

               “Don’t you want to see our pictures?”

               She shrugged. “Okay.”

               He handed her the strip.

               She curled her lips in a smile. “Hey, these are great!” A little enthusiasm, after all. “You know just where to stand, don’t you?”

               Ah, yes, even the most vacant of brain could sometimes make connections unwanted and unwarranted. Still, the local police had not released all the details of the previous death to the news media, so this particular indulgence of his was still unknown by the general public, though he wondered if area mall cops wouldn’t have been alerted. Perhaps it was time to move on to phase two.

               He tucked the colorful strip into his shirt pocket and led his companion to the other size of the mall, where he knew the least-used washrooms were likely to be empty at this time of day. “I’ll pay you in the washroom. I have to get at my money belt for the cash. Plus, I have a little blow we can do.”

               She accepted the explanation. “Why didn’t you say so in the first place?”

               The tiles in the washroom were dirty white with a fleshy pink trim, and when he turned and keyed the door locked behind them, her eyes widened.

               “Friend of mine’s a security guard here,” Martin lied, smiling and taking a glass vial out of his pocket. He handed it to her and watched her pour some out onto her little mirror, which she’d taken from her purse. He backed her into a stall and pushed her down onto the toilet, where she sat with her legs spread and maneuvered a thin white straw into the powder on her mirror. She inhaled noisily, then fixed him with an angry stare.

               “This isn’t—“

               By then Martin was taking the knife from the sheath that pressed into the small of his back. Her eyes widened as the blade danced before her.

               “Hey, come on now, mister, you got what you wanted and it was on the house, okay, no charge.”

               Martin shook his head and clucked his tongue. His fingers shook around the knife’s hilt—it was a flexible cutting knife, almost a straight-razor, and he handled it carefully. A thin voice made its way from between his lips. It didn’t sound like Martin at all.

               “Why mommy, why didn’t you do something? Why were you almost always gone, huh mommy? Why did I have to play mommy for daddy? Why did I have to do those things for daddy that you should have done?”

               “W-what? Mister, I don’t know w-what—“

               “Shut up, mommy!” He motioned with the blade. “You should have been there. You should have done all those things for daddy. Not me.”

               He slashed out with the blade.

               Heard her skin zip open like a piece of cheap clothing.

               Scream cut off as he clapped a hand over her mouth and held it there as she spasmed.

               Tiles, turning red.

               He let her head go.

               “Not me!” he screamed into her wide-open mouth, staring into the dead eyes.

               He still had work to do, and he set about it with the usual efficiency.

               All the while, he muttered.

               “Not me. Not me. Not me.”

               He was gone by the time they unlocked the bathroom and found her.